Tokyo 2020: Olympians and Paralympians touch the hearts of thousands in Sendai
LAURA WALDEN / Sports Features Communications
December 3 – The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) organized an event for 42 Olympians and Paralympians this weekend in the north-eastern Tohoku region where the athletes thanked a crowd of over 48,000 people for their support during the London 2012 Games. It proved a heart-warming exchange with fans as the athletes reached out and shared their medals for photos with the crowd.
The quake last year affected area of Sendai, so it was a special event to show how sport can transcend barriers to energize and unite people and the city embraced the athletes and raised their hopes for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic bid.
Saori Yoshida, three-time gold medal Olympic freestyle wrestler, and Rina Akiyama, Paralympian gold medallist in backstroke led a parade through the city. They were joined by Ryota Murata, Japan's first boxing gold medalist in 48 years in men's middleweight division at the London Games, and Eiko Kakehata, who took the women's goalball team to win Japan's first-ever Paralympic team gold.
Prior to the parade the athletes paid visits to the temporary housing sites and shopping centers in the region’s Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. They also paid visits to the local schools in an effort to heal, unite and inspire people through the influence of sport.
"The 'Thank you for your support Tohoku' event showcases sport's role in inspiring dreams, hopes, goals and positive change. We have a great sense of responsibility to unite Japan's entire population behind a common vision for the country,” said Tsunekazu Takeda, IOC member and head of both the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) and the bid.
“All members of the Japanese sports community feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to stand with the people of Tohoku and work toward a better future."
The athletes themselves were overwhelmed by the warm welcome they received.
"I was offering my support to people, but in reality I received even more than I gave,” said Ryota Murata. “I will continue to work closely with people in this area as we look to the future."
Rina Akiyama said, "I was overwhelmed when people called my name, voiced congratulations and cheered for me. I could really feel their energy. It was truly inspiring."
The JOC has been actively involved with the "Ganbare Nippon" (Hang in there, Japan) project that they started last year. To date athletes and Olympians have hosted Olympic Day Festas and numerous other events in the hard hit areas of Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and Ibaraki.
The JOC has also sent relief goods, donated funds and helped with medial teams to the needy. And so far over 30 million yen have been donated by the public for relief purposes.
Tokyo is bidding for the 2020 Olympic summer Games against Istanbul and Madrid. The final decision will be taken on September 7, 2013 at the IOC session in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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