Likely new head of Tokyo 2020 is ex-Olympian, minister for women’s rights

Japan Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto emerged as a candidate to lead the Tokyo Olympics organising committee, public broadcaster NHK said on Wednesday, after ex-prime minister Yoshiro Mori resigned from the post over sexist remarks.

Born days before Japan hosted the Summer Olympics in 1964, Hashimoto’s parents named her after the Olympic flame. She has lived up to that name by taking part in seven Olympics, both winter and summer Games and in two sports.

A 56-year-old ruling party lawmaker, Hashimoto has served as the Olympics minister, doubling as Minister in Charge of Women’s Empowerment, since 2019.

Best known as a speed skater, Hashimoto – who hails from Japan’s wintry northernmost main island of Hokkaido – competed in Games from Sarajevo in 1984 to Atlanta in 1996. She took part in three of these as a cyclist after taking up the discipline as part of her off-season training.

Her first name, Seiko, is written with the same first character in Japanese for “Olympic flame” – seika – in commemoration of the 1964 event, which opened five days after her birth and was a pivotal event in modern Japanese history.

Though the highest Olympic medal she won was a bronze at the 1992 Albertville Winter Games in the Ladies 1,500 metre ice-skating race, she set a record for taking part in the most Olympic games of any Japanese woman.

She is also the only Japanese woman to have competed in the Olympics while serving as a lawmaker, after she won election to the upper house of parliament in 1995 and finished her Olympic career at Atlanta a year later as a cyclist.

After marrying a widower in 2000, she made history again by becoming the first upper house lawmaker to give birth while holding office. She kept working almost until her daughter’s birth, which media reports said happened just two hours after she entered hospital for the delivery.

Hashimoto’s husband, a policeman, brought three children to their marriage. Together they had three children, making her the mother of six – three boys and three girls. Her policy focus has been on education and children and she has also prioritised health issues and Japan’s falling birth rate.

Before assuming the ministerial post, Hashimoto served as the vice president of the Japanese Olympic Committee. She has also served as a Tokyo 2020 Executive Board member and president of the Japanese Skating Association.

Reporting by Elaine Lies: Editing by Neil Fullick / REUTERS

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