Twelve members of the Self-Defense Forces have been chosen to represent Japan at the London Olympics this summer. What is the secret behind these public servants-turned-athletes?
On May 17, 10 of the 12 visited the Defense Ministry and met with Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka for a pep talk.
The 10 athletes belong to the Japan Self-Defense Forces’ Physical Training School, located within the compound of the JGSDF Camp Asaka in Tokyo's Nerima Ward. The school was built in 1961, three years before the Tokyo Olympics, as a state-run institute to train future Olympians.
Thanks to such support, Yoshinobu Miyake won a weightlifting gold medal at the Tokyo Games in the featherweight category and repeated the feat four years later in Mexico City.
The Physical Training School has gone on to help Japanese athletes win 14 Olympic medals, including six golds. Last year, it celebrated its 50th anniversary since its founding.
But the school has been producing fewer medalists in recent years. For the past 20 years since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, it has only produced four to eight Olympians per Games. So being able to send 12 to London is a big increase. The SDF athletes will constitute the largest group of Japanese athletes among the roughly 300 headed for London. The school has become an elite institution where almost 10 percent of the entire student body of about 150 will be competing at the Olympics.