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Japan eyes top three in Olympic medal standings

Saori Yoshida

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27: Saori Yoshida of the Japan Olympic wrestling team carries her country’s flag during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

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TOKYO (AP) -- The newly formed Japan Sports Agency has set ambitious goals for the nation’s athletes at both the Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo Olympics.

Headed by Seoul Olympics swimming gold medalist Daichi Suzuki, the government agency has targets of at least 10 gold medals at next year’s Rio Games and a minimum of 20 at Tokyo in 2020.

Japan won seven golds at the 2012 London Olympics and was sixth overall with 38 medals. The JSA calculates that 20 golds at Tokyo would put Japan third in the overall medal standings.

“One of the reasons we set these goals is that when top athletes are successful, they inspire citizens to get involved in sports,” Suzuki said. “It creates a virtuous cycle.”

The JSA was established on Oct. 1 with the goals of increasing Japan’s international competitiveness and improving athlete support for the Tokyo Olympics.

The agency is also tasked with improving the health of citizens through sports, increasing Japan’s international status, and stimulating the economy and rural areas.

The sports agency will have a staff of around 120 and will comprise five divisions.

The 48-year-old Suzuki had previously served as president of the Olympians Association of Japan, chairman of the Japan Swimming Association, an executive board member of the Japanese Olympic Committee and a professor at Juntendo University.

In addition to the gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke in Seoul, Suzuki won the gold medal in the same event at the 1986 Asian Games also in Seoul.

“When we consider the national characteristics of Japanese and the country of Japan, we are a country that attaches importance to teamwork and collaboration,” Suzuki said.

“In order to emerge to the top level of sports on a global basis, perhaps we need to focus not so much on harmony and cooperation but at times place emphasis on autonomy and creativity. Acting and thinking in a different manor.”