Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay revives fond memories of Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998

As the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay arrives in the Nagano prefecture – the site of the Olympic Winter Games in 1998 – we look at some of the key Olympic legacies that the city and its people still enjoy today.

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The Olympic Winter Games in Nagano took place from 7 to 22 February 1998. They provided the Japanese prefecture of Nagano with an opportunity to become a leading winter sports destination and promote volunteering in Japan.

The Games were organised in a way that minimised their environmental impact. Existing sites were used where possible, and efforts were made to protect wildlife, prompting the introduction of local wildlife protection regulations.

The Games also provided an opportunity to upgrade Nagano’s ski resorts and transport infrastructure. Offering deep powdery snow and challenging skiing terrain, the resorts continued to expand and develop in the two decades after the Games, to cater for demand as visitor numbers climbed.

Eleven of the 14 competition venues used for the Games are still in use today, benefitting the local population and top Japanese athletes. The 1,032 apartments in the Olympic Village are all occupied today, providing a mix of both private and social housing for older people.

The perception of the Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998 remains very positive among local people today. A recent survey found that 89 per cent of Nagano residents felt that staging the Games had been worthwhile, a view that has been nurtured over the years by annual events such as the city’s Lanterns Festival and the Nagano Olympic Commemorative Marathon.

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A boost for Japan’s winter sports scene

The Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998 generated JPY 47 billion in revenue, providing an opportunity to develop winter sports in Japan.

The Nagano Association for the Promotion of the Olympic Movement (NAPOM) was set up immediately after the Games to pursue that aim and build on the event’s legacy. In its 12-year existence, NAPOM provided financial backing for 228 domestic and international sports events in Nagano prefecture, and 75 international sports events across Japan as a whole.

A private, non-profit organisation, NAPOM also made JPY 1.32 billion from the Games available for the development and training of junior winter sports athletes, ensuring that they could make use of the world-class facilities available to them in Nagano. Several of these athletes went on to represent Japan at the Olympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010.

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Lasting local engagement

Ranging in age from 16 to 83, over 32,000 volunteers helped out at the Games. They were organised into volunteer groups, each with their own chain of command, and together they helped change the way volunteering was perceived in Japan.

Many of these groups continue to apply the expertise and knowledge they acquired at Nagano 1998. They include the M-tomo Group, which is made up of 200 people who help out at events staged at the M-Wave, the speed skating venue for the Games.

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Volunteers were also instrumental in the success of the Snowlets Camp, an IOC-approved international youth gathering. The camp, the theme of which was “world solidarity”, promoted winter sports, the Olympic Movement and a message of world peace. Some 217 young people aged 15 to 20, from 51 National Olympic Committees (NOCs), took part.

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Environmental safeguards

Efforts were made to protect the environment while improving skiing facilities and transport links. These included the creation of a special body to look at the environmental factors linked to the choice of venues. To reduce impact, all the Alpine skiing events were staged at existing sites, while some venues were switched in response to environmental concerns. Road-building impact studies were also conducted, local flora and habitats protected, and water purity and the natural landscape preserved.

As part of the Commemorative Olympic Tree-Planting Programme, some 70,000 indigenous trees were planted across the sites to compensate for the 11,000 trees cut down to make way for new competition venues. Meanwhile, the discovery of nesting goshawks at the proposed biathlon venue led to these events being moved to an existing site elsewhere and prompted the introduction of local wildlife protection regulations. Such actions helped raise environmental awareness among local people.

Improved infrastructure

The upgrading of road and rail links in and around the city before the Olympic Winter Games made the region’s ski resorts more accessible and appealing to visitors.

The extension of the Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet-train line to Nagano more than halved journey times between the city and Tokyo. Two of Nagano’s major railway stations were expanded, and the road network was also upgraded. These developments continue to bring benefits to the area more than 20 years on.

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