SEOUL (Reuters) – Japan has stoked its sporting rivalry with neighbours South Korea ahead of this month’s Asian Games and said it plans to use the multi-sport event in Incheon, west of Seoul, as a springboard to success at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
The 17th Asiad officially opens on Friday with hosts South Korea and Japan expected to be fighting it out for second place on the medals table behind sporting powerhouse China.
The Koreans, who have targeted 90 gold medals in Incheon, have finished runners-up to China at the last four Asian Games, winning 76 golds in Guangzhou four years ago while Japan took 48.
“I hear South Korea is aiming for 90 gold medals. I don’t think they have ever achieved that before,” Kyodo news agency quoted Japan delegation official Yuji Takada as saying at a news conference on Sunday.
“We, of course, in Japan would like to do the same.”
South Korea have actually breached the 90 gold medal mark on two occasions, both times on home soil, winning 93 in Seoul (1986) and 96 in Busan (2002).
“There are a lot of political issues, not among the athletes themselves, but the reality is our rivalry isn’t with China but with South Korea,” added Takada at a ceremony to mark the launch of the team’s campaign at the Sept 19 to Oct 4 Games.
Japan heads to the Asian Games with the team’s top two symbolic leadership roles filled by women for the first time.