By Amlan Chakraborty
JAKARTA (Reuters) - Japan will go toe-to-toe with China at the 18th Asian Games, hoping sparring with the continent's most dominant sporting nation will boost their bid for a record medal haul in their home Olympics in 2020, its delegation chief said on Saturday.
Japan topped the medal standings in the first Asian Games in 1951 and continued their dominance until the 1982 New Delhi Games where China took over as the new leaders.
It will need a miracle to deny China a 10th successive Asiad at the top of the medal tally despite the inexperienced look of their 845-strong squad even though Japan will mount stiff competition in swimming, gymnastic, track and field, and table tennis.
"Not only these four sports, in various sports China is still number one in Asia," Yasuhiro Yamashita, who heads Japan's 1000-plus contingent, including 752 athletes, told a news conference.
"I'm looking forward to our athletes challenging China and performing well. If China and Japan perform at a high level, it will help bring up the Asian total sporting performance.
"In other sports as well, if China and Japan compete at a really high level, our athletes can learn a lot from the competition. I strongly believe those performance here will be beneficial for their own performance in two years' time in Tokyo."
Japan have set themselves a 30-gold target for the 2020 Olympics at home, which they believe will be enough to finish third in the medal standings.
To achieve that, they need to do well in disciplines that have served them well and make the most of the new events, said Yamashita, a former Olympic champion Judoka.
"We traditionally had high performance in judo, wrestling, gymnastics and swimming. Looking back, we (also) find a good foundation of team performance in badminton, table tennis, fencing, sailing, weightlifting," Yamashita said.
"On top of that, in Tokyo, there will be new events like karate, softball, baseball, surfing and sport climbing and in those sports we have very good athletes."
The 62-year-old also dismissed suggestions that Japanese athletes might go easy in Indonesia, saying such a move would risk their selection for the Tokyo Games.
"To becomes Olympic athletes, internally in Japan (there's) a big competition among the athletes. Those who have come here to compete, they cannot reserve their best for the future. They have to fight hard and compete seriously here," he said.
"I'm looking forward to high performance by our athletes here," said Yamashita who took over as the chairman of the sports committee of the Japanese Olympic Committee last year.
"Looking back to last one year, I found a lot to do. Now I must calm down and take a strategic approach to the Games in the remaining one year and 10 months."
While stressing the importance of doing well in the Asian Games ahead of a home Olympics, he also pointed out the coincidence that Tokyo last hosted an Olympics Games in 1964, two years after Jakarta hosted an Asian Games.
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in Jakarta; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)