Japan to Pay Top Olympic Athletes

By Hideki Mochizuki

TOKYO, October 29. IN a radical break with the past, the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) has decided to implement a new plan for the marketing of Japanese Olympic sports beginning next January.

Under the new initiative, the JOC will select the nation's 15 top Olympic athletes, contracting with each of them to use their likeness in an aggresive marketing program. In return, each of these "symbol athletes" will be paid 10 million yen (US$92,600) per year.

Topping the list of selected symbol athletes are Athens gold medalists Kosuke Kitajima (swimming) and Koji Murofushi (athletics). However, Kitajima and his coach, Norimasa Hirai, have not decided yet whether to sign the agreement with the JOC.

The program was created after the JOC and the governing bodies of each of the individual sports were pilloried by the athletes for using the athletes' likenesses for free.

Flushed with the success of its team in Athens, the Japanese Swimming Federation changed its strategy for next year's World Championships in Montreal.

Previously the policy was to select only those swimmers who had legitimate chances of finaling. On October 19, however, the federation decided it will select swimmers for "all events," provided the swimmer meets the time standards set by the federation. The decision was made so that a larger number of swimmers would gain experience competing against world-class opponents.

It is expected that approximately 40 swimmers will be chosen for Montreal.

Noriko Inada, the former Japanese record holder in the women's 100m backstroke and a bronze medalist from the 2003 World Championships in the 50m backstroke, announced her retirement on October 13. Inada participated in three Olympic Games: 1992, 2000 and 2004.

Takashi Yamamoto, silver medalist from Athens in the men's 200m butterfly, started his coaching job at his alma mater, Kinki University, in Osaka. He has not retired from competition though, saying “as Beijing 2008 gets closer, if I feel like I can win the gold medal, I will begin training again.”

Masami Tanaka, fourth place finisher in the women's 200m breaststroke at Athens, retired from competition earlier this month. Tanaka, the former world record-holder in the short course 200m breaststroke, owns the Japanese record in all three (long course) breaststroke events: 31.75 (50m), 1.07.27 (100m) and 2.24.12 (200m).

Hironoshin Furuhashi, 76, the ex-president of the Japanese Swimming Federation, was re-elected president of the Asian Swimming Federation for another four-year term on September 19.

Twenty-four year-old Takahiro Mori, the sixth place finisher at Athens in the 200m IM, has announced his retirement, saying he plans to pursue a career in coaching.

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