Japan urged to demonstrate 'energy' in Sochi
An Olympic torches rises in front of a poster with the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic logo just outside the Red Square in Moscow on October 7, 2013 - by Kirill Kudryavtsev
About 100 Japanese athletes selected for next month's Sochi Games gathered at a plush hotel in Tokyo for a ceremony to launch the delegation, expected to swell into Japan's biggest ever Winter Olympic expedition.
"I wish you all to show the people of the world through the Olympics how Japan is filled with energy and how Japan is filled with pride in the world," Japanese Olympic Committee president Tsunekazu Takeda told the ceremony.
He said his organisation had invited 15 junior high school students from the region hit by the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, to help prepare and encourage them for future challenges.
Takeda also recalled that Japan captured a record haul of 38 medals at the 2012 London Olympics, a tally that helped Tokyo win the bid for the 2020 Summer Games against Madrid and Istanbul.
"We have realised through the Olympics the power of sport and the energy gained from sport," he said.
Takeda added that he hoped the Sochi delegation would perform its best and give "strong encouragement" to the whole country as it looks forward to the 2020 Olympics.
Japan's chef de mission in Sochi, former Olympic speedskater and cyclist Seiko Hashimoto, is aiming for a record medal haul in Sochi.
She hopes to better the medal haul won at the 1998 home Winter Games in Nagano of 10 medals, including five gold.
Hashimoto has also predicted the Sochi team will exceed the record 112 athletes Japan sent to Turin 2006 where they won just one medal -- a gold through Shizuka Arakawa in the women's figure skating.
Japan fielded 94 athletes at Vancouver 2010 where they picked up three silver and two bronze medals.
The country's best gold medal hopes rest on ski-jumper Sara Takanashi, the women's World Cup champion last season, who has won eight titles from nine World Cup events so far this season.
Mao Asada is set for another gold-medal showdown with South Korean star Kim Yu-Na, who beat her for gold in the women's figure skating in Vancouver.
Other Japanese figure skaters, men and women, are considered medal contenders, including Yuzuru Hanyu who beat Canada's three-time world champion Patrick Chan at the Grand Prix Final last month.
Japan also hope to grab a few more medals in speed skating, combined cross country skiing and snowboarding.