Aspiring Olympic BMX rider Saya Sakakibara took part in the final week of a three-month programme aimed at building excitement in Australia and Japan ahead of Tokyo 2020.
The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) claim more than 1,500 students from 40 schools across the two countries shared their experiences, culture and anticipation for next year’s Olympic Games, postponed to 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sakakibara’s virtual visit capped off the pilot programme, called Australian Olympic Connect.
Born in Japan and raised in Australia, Sakakibara is looking to make her Olympic debut next year.
The 21-year-old shared her Tokyo 2020 journey and heard from students from Osaka in Japan and Alice Springs in Australia about how they have connected with each other’s culture through the programme.
"I love that the Olympics is bringing Japanese and Australian students closer," Sakakibara said.
"It doesn’t matter if you speak a different language or have a different background, sport is a common ground - it can bring us all together.
"Being able to connect with people from a different background and language is such an amazing opportunity.
"To make those bonds at a young age to learn from and open your mind to different cultures is so valuable.
"My Japanese heritage is such a big part of my identity and it’s great to be able to share the excitement for the Tokyo Olympics next year with the students today."
The AOC said 20 schools from each country were paired together and have shared video calls, class projects and ongoing conversations over the last three months.
Following the pilot, planning is said to be underway for an extended rollout in 2021 ahead of ahead of the rescheduled Olympics.
AOC chief executive Matt Carroll said the programme exemplified the power of the Olympics to bring people together, bridging cultures and promoting communication and understanding through sport.
"I’m excited to see Australian Olympic Connect bring students from Japan and Australia together to experience the Olympic spirit," said Carroll.
"Learning about other cultures, and sharing experiences is central to the Olympic Movement.
"Providing an opportunity for genuine cultural exchange across countries for young Australians is so valuable.
"Feedback from teachers and students participating in the program has been fantastic.
"Having aspiring Olympian Saya join the video call with Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic College in Alice Springs and Mino Jiyu Gakuen in Osaka today is the perfect way to demonstrate the great friendship and Olympic connection between Australia and Japan."