Japan's Tokyo 2020 hopefuls returning to training centre by the numbers

Itching to shake off the rust, likes of Seto Daiya, Uchimura Kohei flock to state-of-the-art National Training Center

By Shintaro Kano ·

As the country awakens from social hibernation due to the coronavirus pandemic, Japan's best and brightest athletes are heading back to the drawing board known as the National Training Center.

The Japanese government lifted the state of emergency nationwide on 25 May. The following day, it was announced that the NTC, the nation's Mecca of high-performance training, would reopen for business.

Itching to shake off the rust after months of staying at home, it didn't take long for Japan's top athletes eyeing the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to start turning up at the state-of-the-art tacitly in Tokyo's Kita Ward.

Uchimura Kohei is one of several Olympians who have headed back to Tokyo's National Training Center.

Everyone from three-time Olympic champion gymnast Uchimura Kohei to Seto Daiya, the reigning men's 200- and 400-meter individual medley world champion, to Rio 2016 silver medallists Niwa Koki (table tennis) and Iizuka Shota (athletics) have already had their first workouts with more to follow.

"It's a pool I swam in practically everyday so I felt right at home. I still have a long way to go but it's time to start picking it up for next year", said Seto Daiya, one of Japan's best gold-medal bets for Tokyo 2020.

Former world record-holder in the men's breaststroke, Watanabe Ippei, is expected to return sometime this month.

The badminton team, including world No.1 Momota Kento, was scheduled to hold a mini-camp from 19 June but with requests to use the NTC pouring in, the shuttlers are set to train elsewhere, avoiding the crowd as part of counter-COVID-19 guidelines.

The NTC will be reopened over five phases that are in line with de-escalation measures issued by the government. For the time being, only individual workouts will be allowed.

"This is very bright news", said Seoul 1988 men's 100 backstroke gold medallist Suzuki Daichi, now chief of the Japan Sports Agency. "I am sure they could not wait to get back to training".