ITU President visits earthquake-ravaged Tōhoku Region
Friday, 16 September 2011
September 16 - Marisol Casado, President of the International Triathlon Union (ITU), was the first International Olympic Committee (IOC) member to visit the devastated area of Shichigahama, Miyagi in Japan after it was hit by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in March this year, with the 2011 Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Yokohama set to take place this weekend.
The region was a famous triathlon Mecca in Japan, hosting key triathlon events such as the ITU Triathlon Asian Cups since 1988, before it suffered catastrophic damage from the magnitude 9.0 offshore earthquake - the most powerful known earthquake to have hit Japan - and the subsequent tsunami, which destroyed the area with waves of up to 40.5 metres.
The disaster also caused a number of nuclear accidents, such as the ongoing level seven meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, which has seen thousands of people being evacuated from their homes in the area.
The neighbouring city of Sendai was set to host the 2011 edition of the event on July 3 this year but this was cancelled following the tragic events.
Speaking in Tokyo today at a luncheon hosted by The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, Casado talked about the role of sport in the recovery process.
"Myself, members of the ITU and international triathletes were all deeply saddened by news of the tsunami," said the Spaniard.
"I have to say that this was a good opportunity to visit the eastern area.
"I think this is a very important and special place for triathlon in Japan and when we heard the news, we were very worried about our triathlon family in Japan."
Casado praised the rising profile of triathlon and the high standard of athletes in Japan as she visited the area yesterday and met with the Shichigahama Town Mayor Yoshio Watanabe.
"The 2011 Sendai Asian Cup that was originally scheduled for July 3 was cancelled following the tragic events," she said.
"Having visited the area that used to be a great triathlon venue, I was again shocked by the scenery.
"I was saddened to see the devastation but on the other hand I felt very positive by how fast the Japanese people came together to recover as soon as possible."
Casado extended her support to Japan as it faces great challenges and has faith that sport offers hope to the people.
"I believe the values of sport are really important in these kinds of situation," she said.
"I think that sport develops self esteem, self confidence and I suppose for the recovery, these two values are very important.
"It also opens the opportunity for socialising, to make friends all over the world.
"I have been engaged in this sport for a very long time since I was a high school runner, I took up triathlon and took part in the first ever triathlon race in Spain and the sport has brought me great values, inspiration, friends and humanity.
"It has brought a great gift to me and I hope it will be true for many other people in Japan and around the world."
Despite being delayed from the original date in May due to the earthquake, Casado remained confident about the 2011 Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Yokohama, which starts this weekend, and spoke of the recent boost in the development of triathlon ahead of the event.
"We are pleased to fly over to Japan to host the ITU Triathlon World Championship Series event," she said.
"We knew that we would face a hard task following the difficult times in Japan.
"The easiest thing to do would have been to cancel the event in Yokohama with speculation around the safety, but not only myself, but all the athletes really wanted to come back to Japan.
"We understand that Japan makes a big contribution to our sport and that we wanted to come back as soon as possible to the event.
"Of course we were all worried about the safety, but actually our main problem was to communicate without speculation.
"We decided to come back after our Grand Final in Beijing and the result has been so good as we are here with a full start list of the best athletes in the world that are competing in Yokohama."
The 2011 Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Yokohama will attract more than 1,200 age-groupers and paratriathletes to the competition, with the elite women's race taking place on Monday at 8.05am local time, followed by the elite men at 11.05am.
The course is based around Yokohama's harbour, with a two-lap 1.5 kilometre swim, an eight-lap 40km bike course and a four-lap 10km run, and was part of the first Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championships Series in 2009.