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Ex-Olympian track cyclist Seiko Hashimoto appointed new Olympics chief

The Japanese lawmaker takes over after former chief Yoshiro Mori resigned due to making sexist comments about women.

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The new boss of the Tokyo Olympic Games is familiar with the territory: Seiko Hashimoto has represented Japan in four consecutive Winter Olympics from 1984 to 1994, and in three consecutive Summer Olympics from 1988 to 1996.

On Thursday, the former speed skater and track cyclist announced her resignation as Olympics minister, a position Hashimoto has held since 2019, in order to accept the new position as president of the games.

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“As someone with an athletic background, I will carry out a safe Games for both athletes and citizens,” she told a news conference Thursday.

Hashimoto’s new appointment comes on the heels of scandal after Yoshiro Mori, an 83-year-old former prime minister, resigned as Tokyo 2020 president last week after saying women talk too much.

Mori resigned last Friday after causing an international outcry by saying during a committee meeting that women talk too much. Mori refused calls to step down, and the International Olympic Committee did not demand his resignation.

Seiko Hashimoto takes over as the president of the Tokyo Olympic Games
Seiko Hashimoto takes over as the president of the Tokyo Olympic Games. Photo: Creative Commons

However, growing anger at his remarks and a public petition drive helped seal his fate in a nation where gender equality is an ongoing challenge.

Hashimoto is also inheriting a troubled Games due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Opinion polls have repeatedly shown that 80 percent of Japanese citizens do not believe the Games should be held this year. Hashimoto pledged to address the concerns for both ordinary citizens and athletes.

Hashimoto, who is 65, attended her first Summer Olympics as a cycling sprinter during the 1988 summer games in Seoul, where she placed fifth in the women’s sprint. She placed eleventh in the 3,000m individual pursuit at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, and ninth in the points race at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

She also won the bronze medal in the 1,500m speed skating event in her third Winter Olympic appearance at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.

“With her great Olympic experience….and having led Japan’s delegation to the Olympic Games multiple times, she is the perfect choice for this position,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement.

“Seiko Hashimoto can draw on her rich political experience as a Minister and many other political functions. This will help to deliver safe and successful Olympic and Paralympic Games.”