Eritrean Tokyo 1964 Olympic Cyclist Says Japanese Hospitality Unchanged

Eritrean cyclist Yemane Negasi Gebremariam

Eritrean Tokyo 1964 Olympic Cyclist Says Japanese Hospitality Unchanged

By ODAKA CHIBA/ Staff Writer | October 24, 2013

Almost 50 years after he competed in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, an Eritrean cyclist returned to Japan for the first time for a more leisurely bike stroll around Shikoku.

Yemane Negasi Gebremariam, 67, came to Japan at the invitation of a private organization, which sponsored the 11-day Shikoku Discovery Ride, which started on Oct. 6. He competed in the cycling competition at the Tokyo Olympics, which was held in Hachioji in the western suburb of Tokyo.

On Oct. 22, Yemane visited the Japan Cycling Federation and reminisced about the old days with officials, showing them the cloth number he wore in the race in 1964. He also showed them a cycling race program from the event, which he has long treasured.

Yemane, who now heads a regional branch of Eritrea’s cyclists association, said he wants to return to Japan in 2020 when Tokyo hosts the Games again.

Asked what he felt about Tokyo, he said, “It has changed a lot, proof that it has made dramatic progress. But I still feel people are kind and hospitable.”

“It was an honor to have been able to participate in the 1964 Olympics,” Yemane said. “If I am lucky, I will be able to visit Japan again with younger cyclists.”

Eritrea, which is located northeast of the African continent, gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993.

Bicycle racing dates to the 1930s when the country was an Italian colony and is still one of the most popular national sports.

Yemane competed in the Tokyo Olympics and also at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, representing Ethiopia. He was 18 when he participated in the Tokyo Games.

While he was excited about competing in his first international event, he recalled the opening ceremony where the spectators were roaring and clapping in the packed National Stadium in Shinjuku Ward.

Yemane added he was strongly impressed with the collaboration among related organizing members when competitors were being transported from the Olympic athletes' village to the cycling circuit in Hachioji.

 

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