48,000 Supporters Line Sendai Streets to Cheer Olympic and Paralympic Heroes

A crowd estimated at 48,000 turned up in the city of Sendai in
north-eastern Japan's Tohoku region to welcome 42 Olympic and Paralympic heroes from the London 2012 Games during the "Thank you for your support, Tohoku" event organised by the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) on 2-3 December. Demonstrating the power of sport, the event united and energised fans and residents in the quake-affected area, making for another vivid display of Japan's enthusiasm for sport, which underpins Tokyo's bid to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Leading the parade were Saori Yoshida, three-time Olympic 55-kilogram freestyle wrestling gold medallist, and Rina Akiyama, 100m backstroke S11 Paralympian gold medallist.

Other noted Olympians and Paralympians included Ryota Murata, who won Japan's first boxing gold medal in 48 years in men's middleweight division at the London Games, and Eiko Kakehata, who led the women's goalball team to Japan's first-ever Paralympic team gold.

The athletes were eager to thank the people of the quake-struck Tohoku region for their support.

As they walked the streets of Sendai, they engaged in heart-warming exchangeswith fans, taking photos and letting people touch their medals.

Earlier, the athletes visited temporary housing sites and shopping centres in the region's Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushimaprefectures.

The following day, the athletes visited schools to leverage the Olympic Movement's unique power to heal, unite and inspire people, including schoolchildren.

Tsunekazu Takeda, IOC member and President of both the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) and Tokyo 2020, said: "The 'Thank you for your support, Tohoku' event showcases sport's role in inspiring dreams, hopes, goals and positive change. We have a great sense of responsibility to unite Japan's entire population behind a common vision for the country.

All members of the Japanese sports community feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to stand with the people of Tohoku and work toward a better future."

Rina Akiyama said: "I was overwhelmed when people called my name, voiced congratulations and cheered for me. I could really feel their energy. It was truly inspiring."

Ryota Murata said: "I was offering my support to people, but in reality I received even more than I gave. I will continue to work closely with people in this area as we look to the future."

As part of the "Ganbare Nippon" (Hang in there, Japan) project that the JOC started last year, Olympians and athletes have hosted Olympic Day Festas and other events in the quake-affected prefectures of Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and Ibaraki.

The JOC also has donated funds, sent relief goods and provided medical teams. To date, more than 30 million yen has been collected through public donations for relief purposes.
Image of the event

London Games boxing gold medallist Ryota Murata poses with kids at the Tohoku Parade

Image of the event

A massive crowd welcomed Olympic and Paralympic Heroes in Sendai