Japan sends a vibrant contingent of athletes to the Summer Olympics in London. The country debuted in the Olympics in 1912 and has been a steady presence ever since. In Beijing in 2008, Japanese athletes scored nine gold, six silver and 10 bronze medals.
Although not the strongest nation for Olympians, Japan needs a psychological boost as it continues to recover from last year's devastating earthquake and tsunami.
Hiroshi Hoketsu, Dressage: At the age of 71, Hiroshi Hoketsu will likely be the oldest athlete at the games this year. NPR reports Hoketsu won a spot in early March just before his 71st birthday. He competed in Beijing in 2008 at the age of 67 and was the oldest Olympian four years ago where he placed 35th. Time magazine reports another amazing tidbit about Hoketsu: He competed in the 1964 Summer Games at Tokyo in front of the home crowd and finished 40th in show jumping. Hoketsu will not break the record for the oldest Olympian--that distinction belongs Swedish shooter Oscar Swahn, who won a silver medal in 1920 at the age of 72 in Antwerp.
Homare Sawa, Soccer: The emotional leader of a young Japanese soccer (football) team is Homare Sawa. The team qualified for the London Olympics by shocking the Americans in the 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany. Sawa, a midfielder, equalized in the 117th minute against Team USA before Japan won in the penalty shootout. She wears number 10 for a reason. Sawa is the team's best player and fans had better believe the Japanese will make waves among the world's elite teams in London. The midfielder is one of several veterans on the squad, according to AFP.
Narumi Kurosu, Modern Pentathlon: The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami literally swept away the hopes, dreams and lives of thousands of Japanese. Narumi Kurosu of Ibaraki almost didn't make the Olympic team. The earthquake and tsunami damaged Kurosu's training facilities, but just 10 days after the disaster a South Korean trainer took her in and the young lady moved to the peninsula. Sports Features Communications states Kurosu earned a spot in London when she placed high enough at the Asia Oceania Championships.
Kenki Sato, Eventing: A Buddhist monk's life isn't all strict prayer and meditation. In fact, Kenki Sato's family includes multiple members of the country's equestrian team. His father qualified for the 1980 Moscow games before Japan boycotted. His younger brother competed in Beijing in 2008 and his sister is a five-time national showjumping champion in Japan. Although not expected to win a medal, Sato's story is intriguing. Not many people who have professional religious backgrounds make it to the Olympics. The bald-headed Sato is 28 and finished 35th in the world championships in 2010, according to AFP. Sato's family lives in Nagano, site of the Winter Olympics several years ago.
Yuki Ota, Fencing: The defending silver medalist from Beijing will have his hands full of European competitors in the individual foil category of fencing. Yuki Ota was Japan's first medalist in the sport of fencing when he took on German Benjamin Kleibrink in the men's foil final in 2008. China Daily reports fencing will have a more Asian flavor this year--China's Lei Sheng is the defending world champion in the foil.
William Browning has been a fan of the Summer Olympics since the games of 1984 in Los Angeles.