Tokyo Olympics: Will China beat Japan (and the US) at their own Games?

Jonathan White, South China Morning Posta

Posted at Aug 03 2021 09:22 PM

China leads the medal table at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and for all of the other aspects surrounding the Games that is what counts come the closing ceremony – and where they stand in comparison to the USA and Japan.


The current standings see China ahead of everyone else, although there are those in the US who are pushing the total medals rather than the number of golds, but what will happen between now and the baton being handed to Paris 2024 is anyone’s guess.


Helpfully, Olympics statistics partner Gracenote has been willing to try to model the final outcome with their virtual medal table, which has been updated as the Games have gone on.


Their latest update, posted on Twitter on August 2 after the completion of Day 10, had China finishing behind the US – as they have had in every model since April. While beating the US would be a huge result, coming ahead of Japan is a more pressing priority in their own Games.

China’s projected total medal haul was 81, up again on the 74 predicted on Sunday, which itself was up by eight on the update after day six.

Japan’s new projected total of 55 has dropped from 59 two days ago, and down on 61 two days before that.


Gracenote has said China will finish with 36 golds – one behind the US – and Japan with 25. To highlight how changeable this is, they were neck and neck with a predicted 31 apiece just four days ago.


China, who slumped to 70 medals in Rio five years ago, a further decline on 91 at London 2012, have their own targets, but beating Japan is always there in the background and more so because it is their home Olympics.

They are on track for a total of 81, according to the latest virtual medal table from Gracenote.


China’s athletes were determined to win gold in Tokyo despite Covid-19 challenges, wrote the Post in July as the delegation prepared to leave.


That the Chinese delegation is the biggest ever sent to an overseas Games – and second only to Beijing 2008, where their 639 athletes won a best-ever 100 medals, including 48 golds – tells its own story. Some 431 Chinese athletes set off to compete in a record 225 events across 30 sporting disciplines in Tokyo.


It is unlikely that either China or Japan will be above the US at the end, but there is more to this than bragging rights as Asia’s most successful Olympians.

The hosts of the Winter Games in six months have a keen interest in how these Olympics are being held during a pandemic, while controversies over the use of “Taiwan” have raged since the opening ceremony.


Online, a rise in anti-Japanese sentiment in China has already spilled over with Japanese athletes targeted on social media.


Some in China turned on Japan’s Daiki Hashimoto when he won gold in the men’s all-around gymnastics final ahead of China’s Xiao Ruoteng.


Chinese social media blew up with criticism of the officiating and of Hashimoto thanking his parents and not the country, with his Instagram then being targeted by Chinese fans. Xiao asked fans to be rational and not attack other athletes in a social media post.


“Everyone in the world has different opinions, athletes have theirs too … And it was great to get the recognition from supporters … But I hope people don’t attack other athletes, who have fought hard for their goals,” Xiao said on Weibo last week, in a post where he was pictured with Hashimoto on the podium.


Table tennis stars Mima Ito and Jun Mituzani were also targeted by the keyboard contingent after winning mixed doubles gold and preventing China from a clean sweep. Again it went from Chinese social media to Twitter and Instagram.


Again, a Chinese athlete offered a more sensible view, with singles gold medallist Chen Meng taking a photo with bronze medal winner Ito at the medal ceremony.


Still, Ito and Mituzani winning gold is proof of what Gracenote said before the Games – that this Olympics has been so hard to model because of Covid-19.


Their gold medal meant that this was the first since 2004 where China have not taken every gold on offer in table tennis and we have seen such unpredictability already at these Games from every corner.


Nowhere more so than the group stage upset of Japan’s world No 1 men’s singles badminton player and Olympic top seed Kento Momota, or the third round women’s singles shock of tennis star Naomi Osaka, the face of these Olympics.


Certainly no one expected the Rio 2016 women’s volleyball champions from China to exit at the group stage, not least coach Lang Ping who had said they were here to win a medal.


“We are ready. We have waited for five years,” she told media on arriving in Tokyo. They will soon be back at the airport.

The unpredictability is exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19, which has seen Chinese athletes hunker down inside the country, eschewing international events for the last 18 months – meaning no one, Gracenote included, knows what level they are arriving at.


Gracenote predicted that China would finish with 66 total medals in its July virtual medal table, marking a third straight decline since Beijing. That was back down on their April prediction, where the Chinese were predicted to be second to the US.

Last month, China had slipped to third behind Russia in the predicted medal table and Japan, in fourth, were set to have their best Games with 61 medals, including 26 golds.


Then again, right before the Games China were up to 38 predicted golds and Japan on 34. Who knows where we will end up as it is impossible to predict even for the professionals.


One thing is for sure, while the US will be in the mix both Japan and China will not be in such a fierce battle when it comes to medals at the Winter Olympics in Beijing in six months’ time.

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