Athletes got a taste of the Olympic dream with SAS
Keen to promote the summer of Olympics activities ahead, SAS devised the Sport Exchange concept where three teams from Tokyo hosted a group from each of the Scandinavian nations in their respective sports – in this case, basketball, track and field and karate.
The “future Olympians” were invited to Tokyo to eat and train together with their counterparts and engage in the kind of cultural exchange that makes the Olympic Games so special.
For Marja Olander, team leader of Malmö-based basketball team Malbas, the program was an unforgettable experience.
“For many of the boys, it was the first time they’d ever traveled outside Europe. The trip had a huge effect on them, like trying out new food and eating with chopsticks for the first time, for example. And right from day one, we were all struck by how open and friendly the Japanese are,” she says. “It was also quite shocking for our boys to see the difference in training routines. The Japanese team trained for up to three hours at a time, -including one hour concentrating just on stretching exercises. It meant they were physically sharper and stronger, but our team members got more used to it the more they played.”
It was a similar story for the 15-strong group from the Allerød Karate Dojo (AKD) in Denmark that, among other highlights, had the chance to practice with a Master Kasuka in Japan’s most prominent dojo.
“It was a fantastic trip,” says head instructor Jacques Dupont. “We weren’t sure how it would be, but the program -exceeded all of our expectations. The standards of the Japanese team were very high, and their training routine was very different, so it was great for our team to get to compete at that level. Best of all, though, the spirit -between the students was really high the whole time.”
Meanwhile, from the Tyrving track and field team in Norway, hurdler Lea Trong-Johansen was also struck by the difference in training methods and the warm welcome they received.
“When it comes to training, we noticed they’re a lot more disciplined than we are. But the most memorable thing was the kindness of the Japanese track and field team. Despite the language -barrier, we found a way to communicate and managed to develop surprisingly strong friendships,” she says.
As a precursor for SAS’ further Olympic-focused activities, the exchange program proved to be a huge success. The athletes got to meet and train with their counterparts and also managed to get a true taste of the host city for the 2020 Olympics. SAS arranged a packed cultural program for the groups that included a trip to the Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi Park, a visit to one of -Tokyo’s famous cat cafés in Harajuku and a lesson in Kendo for some, a traditional martial art dating back to the 1600s that has become a mandatory part of physical -education in Japanese schools.
“It was fascinating to see how quickly and easily the groups began to bond and how soon their relationships developed”. Wherever we went, the welcome was the same and the teams responded so that by the end, there was a real bond between them,” says SAS Project Manager Johanne Sundell.
“Ultimately, this was the aim of the project. The Olympics, after all, are a perfect example of how friendships can cross borders and the SAS Sport Exchange program reflected that ideal.”
Published: March 2, 2020