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Friday, July 18, 2008

OLYMPIC NOTEBOOK

Tomita revels in veteran status ahead of second Olympics


Staff writer

Editor's note: As the countdown to the Summer Olympics draws closer, The Japan Times will provide more coverage of Japan's top medal hopefuls, as well as expanded coverage of international Olympians in the print and online editions.

News photo
Talented athlete: Hiroyuki Tomita, the gold medalist on the pommel horse at the 2005 World Artistic Gymnastic Championships, is one of Japan's top returning gymnasts with Olympic experience. He made his Olympic debut in 2004 in Athens. AP PHOTO

Gymnast Hiroyuki Tomita has excelled on the international stage for several years now and helped the Japan men's team earn a gold medal in the 2004 Athens Summer Games.

Four years later, he is one of the six-man team's veteran leaders.

In fact, the 27-year-old Tomita is one of two returning Olympians from 2004. Takehiro Kashima, who turned 28 on Wednesday, is the other.

Tomita, who was the 2005 world champion, has been named gymnastics captain for the upcoming Beijing Olympics.

He embraces this responsibility.

"By me showing a good performance, I think they (young people) will follow me," he told Jiji Press in a recent interview.

Tomita was Japan's top qualifier for Beijing. He placed first in the NHK Cup, which concluded on May 7 in Okayama.

The victory gave Tomita a positive mind-set as he prepares for the upcoming Beijing Games.

"I think overall I did well," Tomita told International Gymnast magazine. "It was good that I could concentrate throughout and gave a lot of care to my performances during the competition.

"Since I don't have any more competitions until the Olympics, today I wanted to try elements which I want to use at Olympics and it was challenging. On floor and vault, I can't say the results were excellent, but I didn't fall . . . I was tired today and this — the physical strength to compete through the meets to the final day could be the subject to be improved."

In her detailed article, International Gymnast writer Ayako Murao asked the first topic most fans and journalists probably wanted to know, getting Tomita to compare his first Olympiad and the way he views his second go-round.

"Basically it's (the) same, but I pay more much attention to execution," he said. "I've been looking for the beauty of gymnastics. I'll keep doing that more."

On July 14, Tomita's alma mater, Rakuna High School in Kyoto, held a sendoff party for him before the trip to Beijing. According to published reports, 260 people attended the special event, a place where the next generation of gymnasts received priceless inspiration.

At the party, Tomita spoke passionately to his supporters.

"I'd like to show my appreciation with my performance," he told the crowd. "To live up to the expectation of this many people, I'd surely like to train myself so I can show you a good performance in the main event."

Tomita, you may recall, also collected a silver medal for his solid work on the parallel bars in Athens.

Now he looks ahead to having similar results next month.

"I'll just do what I'm supposed to do and perform firmly in Beijing," Tomita told Jiji Press. "And then, the outcome will be determined by the judges."

BY THE NUMBERS: The BBC is sending a 437-man staff to Beijing to cover the 2008 Summer Games, the Sunday Mail of Scotland reported last weekend.

That super-size staff will be considerably bigger than the entire England contingent of athletes (300) for the Olympics. And it includes 213 technical and production staff members, as well as 57 announcers.

"We are sending 33 more people than for Athens because we are broadcasting 2,750 hours of coverage, while in 2004 we only broadcast 1,250 hours," the BBC said in a statement.

OK, fine. But I've got a question: Do BBC viewers really crave 1,500 more hours of Olympic coverage?

And can English athletes tolerate the nearly six billion questions that'll be asked by BBC's on-air "talent" to help fill up all that air time?

I doubt it.

SURFING THE WEB: Brett Larner maintains a blog devoted to Japanese distance running. It gives English-speaking fans a chance to keep up on the latest news of Japan's top participants in the sport.

Larner's blog also includes links to the International Association of Athletics Federations' home page and Japanese athletes' blogs (and distance runner Mara Yamauchi, an English woman married to a Japanese) a calendar of major Japanese races and professional team and university team Web sites.

In a recent blog entry, Larner wrote about 10,000-meter runner Yukiko Akaba, who gave birth to a baby girl in August 2006 and is now thrilled to have qualified for the Olympics.

Akaba placed second in the 10,000 at the recent Japan Athletics National Champion ships at Todoroki Stadium in Kawasaki.

"This is really a dream come true," Akaba was quoted as saying. "It validates everything I've done about staying with running after marriage and giving birth. At the Olympics, I'll be aiming to finish in the prizes."

Akaba's storyline is similar to Ryoko Tani's. The latter, however, is a back-to-back defending judo gold medalist (under-48-kg division.)

Visit Larner's blog at japanrunningnewsblog spot.com

LONE REPRESENTATIVE: Kayoko Fukushi was the only Japanese competitor at the Golden Gala meet last weekend in Rome.

Fukushi struggled to a 10th-place finish in the women's 5,000, finishing it in 15 minutes, 19.74 seconds. Ethiopian star Tirunesh Dibaba won the race in 14:36.58.

A SPRINTER'S SWAGGER: Asafa Powell, one of two Jamaican speedsters in the 100-meter dash, is expected to contend for the gold medal along with compatriot Usain Bolt and American Tyson Gay, who ran a wind-aided 9.68 seconds at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trial but cannot claim the world record due to a technicality too much tail-wind (4.1 meters per second; the limit is 2).

Bolt's 9.72 time on May 31 in New York is the latest world record.

And so it's only natural to wonder when the record will be shattered again.

"Can a man run 9.6?" Powell asked The Associated Press. "You should ask if Asafa can run 9.6."

Oh, yes, Powell's confidence level has reached the Mount Everest level!

Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this article



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