With Yuzuru Hanyu taking home Japan’s first-ever gold medal in men’s figure skating, there’s a chance the country’s rabid sports fans will back off on the intense pressure they’ve been placing on the nation’s Olympic team. That’s sure to be a weight off the shoulders of the athletes themselves, as well as former Olympiad Dai Tamesue, who recently took so-called fans of the Japanese team to task for calling athletes who fail to reach the podium parasites.
Up until recently, Japan had enjoyed limited success at the Olympic Games. The country’s medal count stagnated through most of the 1980s and ‘90s, with the exception of a bump at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles from which the always competitive Soviet team was absent.
Things started to pick up in the new millennium, as Japan earned a then-high 37 medals at Athens, followed by another strong performance in Beijing, and capped with its best performance yet in London, where the country medaled 38 times.
But Japanese athletes have been building expectations along with momentum. The Winter Games tend to be a tougher challenge for Japan, and the only time it’s reached double-digits in Winter medals was when it benefitted from the home country advantage at the 1998 Nagano Games. Nonetheless, pre-competition interviews with Japanese athletes routinely end with the reporter earnestly imploring, “Please get a medal.”