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The Olympics: Closer Than You Think

By YEONSOO SONG

Komaba Track and Field Stadium | Photo courtesy of Komaba Museum

There are around 200 countries in the world, but only five nations have the bragging rights to present themselves as hosts of the world’s biggest four sporting competitions: the Summer Olympics, the Winter Olympics, the FIFA World Cup and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships. Those five countries are France, Germany, Italy, South Korea and Japan. Japan has the honor to host the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics once again, followed by the 1964 Summer Olympics. Most Todai-sei will be unaware of the fact that The University of Tokyo (UT) has quite a close relationship with the Olympics. Before cheering on Olympians and getting into the Olympics spirit, it is definitely worthwhile to know how our school was associated to the Olympics in the past, and to predict UT’s future involvements in the upcoming Olympics.

Yahiko Mishima, Photo provided by Wikimedia Commons

To begin with, the first Japanese Olympian was a student at the Tokyo Imperial University, which is the current UT. His name was Yahiko Mishima and he participated in the 1912 Stockholm Summer Olympics as a track and field athlete. Though he majored in law at Tokyo Imperial University, his interests laid in sports such as baseball, judo, sumo, and was an active sports person in college. Mishima did not win any medals in the Olympics, but the fact that UT had produced the first Japanese Olympian ever is quite meaningful. Starting off with Mishima, UT sent Olympians to the 1936 Berlin Olympics and 1960 Rome Olympics from the University Rowing Club and Football Club.

During the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, UT generously lent its university athletic facilities for practices and venues for games. The Kemigawa Athletic and Sports Grounds, which are located in Chiba City, feature sports facilities such as soccer, rugby, hockey and cross-country. The grounds served as the cross-country venue for the modern pentathlon. The Komaba Track and Field Stadium, located in the Komaba Campus, is well known for continuously hosting many sports events such as the Japan Championships in Athletics, and has functioned as the practice facility for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Through these methods, the University of Tokyo has been one of the major pioneers of the nation’s sports development and has been nurturing its ties with the Olympics.

In May 2016, UT established The University of Tokyo Sports Science Initiative (UTSSI), a research program dedicated to promoting sports and health sciences in order to foster a healthier Japanese society. One of UTSSI’s main and urgent goals is supporting the trainings of athletes during the 2020 Olympics, with special focus on Paralympians. UTSSI will work in cooperation with the Japanese Paralympic Committee (JPC). Another connection for UT is that Masanori Aoyagi, the chairman of the Culture and Education Commission in the upcoming Olympics is a UT Emeritus Professor. Based on these facts, it is expected that UT will once again demonstrate active participation in the Summer Olympics.

UT President, Makoto Gonokami, emphasized the significance of sports during his address at the 2018 Seoul National University matriculation ceremony. Upon congratulating the success of 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, he commented, “During the PyeongChang Olympic Games, people from all over the world watched athletes’ performances and shared their excitement in real time … Sport, like scholarship, has the power to bring people together across all divisions and boundaries.”