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Japan: Nagano (The 1998 Winter Olympics)

untitledIn light of Tokyo, Japan being chosen as the location for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, I thought it would be a good time to discuss our third trip to Nagano, Japan, the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. 

First, a little background information is in order. The 1998 Winter Olympics, officially the XVIII Olympic Winter Games, was celebrated in Nagano from February 7th through the 22nd.  Seventy-two nations and 2,176 athletes participated in this prestigious occasion spread out over 15 venues.

Venues:

Hakuba

  • Hakuba Ski Jumping Stadium: Nordic combined (ski jumping), Ski jumping
  • Happo’one Resort: Alpine skiing (Downhill, Super G, combined)
  • Snow Harp, Kamishiro: Cross-country skiing, Nordic combined (cross-country skiing)

Iizuna

  • Iizuna Kogen Ski Area: Freestyle skiing
  • Spiral, Asakawa: Bobsleigh, Luge

Karuizawa

  • Kazakoshi Park Arena: Curling

Nagano

  • Minami Nagano Sports Park: Ceremonies (opening/ closing)
  • Aqua Wing Arena: Ice hockey
Aqua Wing Arena

Aqua Wing Arena

  • Big Hat (Nagano Wakasato Tamokuteki Sports Arena): Ice hockey (final)
Big Hat

Big Hat

  • M-Wave: Speed skating
M Wave

M Wave

  • White Ring: Figure skating, Short track speed skating
White Ring

White Ring

Nozawaonsen

  • Nozawa Onsen Ski Resort: Biathlon

Yamanouchi

  • Mount Higashidate: Alpine skiing (giant slalom)
  • Mount Yakebitai, Shiga Kogen Resort: Alpine skiing (slalom), Snowboarding (giant slalom)
  • Kanbayashi Snowboard Park: Snowboarding (Half-Pipe)

Nagano was selected as the host of the Games on June 15, 1991 beating out Salt Lake City, Östersund, Jaca and Aosta. The 1998 Olympics were the third Olympic Games and the second Winter Olympics to be held in Japan, after the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo.

Few may recall that Tokyo was chosen as the host of the 1940 Summer Olympics.  But, due to Japan’s involvement in war with China, the Games were moved to Helsinki . Ultimately, the outbreak of the World War resulted in the cancellation of the 1940 Olympic Games altogether.

In 1959, just 14 years after the end of WWII, Tokyo was selected to host the 1964 Summer Olympic Games.  The city still struggling to pull itself together after losing the war beat out Detroit, Vienna and Brussels as possible venues for the games. How could this be possible?  Thanks to the efforts of a second generation Japanese-American grocer residing in Los Angeles!  In response to a request from the Japanese Prime Minister,  Nobusuke Kishi, Mr. Isamu Wada,  toured ten Central and South American nations with money out of his own pocket for 40 days to lobby for their support for Tokyo’s bid!   Mr. Wada was quoted as saying, “If the Olympics are held in Japan, Japan may well leap forward. It is my mission and responsibility to deliver courage and confidence to the people of Japan.”

The 1964 Tokyo Games were the first to be held in Asia. The carrier of the flame, Yoshinori Sakai, was chosen because he was born on 6 August 1945, the day the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima, in homage to the victims and as a call for world peace.

The 1972 Winter Olympics held in Sapporo were the first Winter Olympics to be held outside Europe and North America. Sapporo competed with Banff, Lahti, and Salt Lake City. The Games were awarded at the 64th IOC Session in Rome, Italy, on April 26, 1966.

It was amazing to get up close and personal to the Olympic venues in Nagano 15 years after the conclusion of the games. Although much had changed, there were still many reminders of the sixteen historical days which captured the world’s attention and left us spellbound!

We visited the Minami Nagano Sports Park where the opening and closing ceremonies took place.  Today the sports park is used primarily as a baseball stadium for high school summer league sessions and amateur baseball leagues. Sitting in the stands, listening to the supportive parents cheering on their children, it is difficult to fathom what the energy and atmosphere were like in this place during the games 15 years ago.

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Lighting of the Olympic torch at the start of the games

Lighting of the Olympic torch at the start of the games

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The athletes enter the sports park during the opening ceremonies

The athletes enter the sports park during the opening ceremonies

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Inside the Minami Nagano Sports Park today

Inside the Minami Nagano Sports Park today

High school summer league players prepare to take the field

High school summer league players prepare to take the field

Parents/ cheerleaders in the stands

Parents/ cheerleaders in the stands

Outside there are beautifully landscaped grounds where you find groups of high school kids congregating and locals going for a stroll. There is also a small children’s playground on the premises with voices of young children and their parents echoing across the field, where the cheers of sports fans bursting with a strong sense of nationalism once filled the air.

Map of Olympic park

Map of Olympic park

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It is amazing to immerse oneself in the history that surrounds this place.  For the older generation it is a place to recall fond memories, for the younger generation it is a place of discovery.

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