Sapporo 1972 inspired new generation of Asian winter athletes

The Sapporo 1972 Olympic Winter Games were the first to be held outside Europe and North America and helped bring winter sports to a new audience within Asia.

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© IOC / Christian Klaue President Bach at the Super Sprint World Championship Women’s finals in Hamburg.

The city of Sapporo itself enjoyed numerous benefits from hosting the Games, with several infrastructure projects initiated during preparations. Transport investments included extensions to two airports, improvements to the main railway station, 41 new or improved roads – totalling 213 km – and the construction of a 45km rapid transit system. Improved urban heating systems, water systems, and sewage treatment facilities were also built, along with 12 new sports venues.

The facilities that were used for speed skating, figure skating, ice hockey and the Closing Ceremony are all still in use today, while the Okurayama and Miyanomori ski jumping hills have since hosted several FIS World Cup and World Championship events.

Mount Teine, which hosted the Alpine skiing events during the Games, has also become a popular ski destination and has twice hosted the Asian Winter Games, as well as being one of the main facilities for regional and national ski competitions.

But perhaps the biggest impact that the Sapporo Winter Games had was on the next generation of winter athletes in Asia.

Prior to 1972, no Asian country had ever won a gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games, but in Sapporo the host country swept the medals in the normal hill ski jumping event, with Yukio Kasaya winning gold.

As Japan’s first ever Winter Olympic gold medallist, Kasaya became a national hero and helped inspire more interest in winter sports across Asia.

By the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, Asia countries were regular medal winners, with Japan leading the way with seven medals and the Republic of Korea winning two gold, one silver and one bronze.

The Winter Games returned to Japan in Nagano in 1998, while today the Republic of Korea is also preparing to host the Games for the first time, with the PyeongChang 2018 Organising Committee hoping to further expand the reach of winter sports across Asia.