Looking back: The World Games 2001

Looking back: The World Games 2001

First time in Asia

The 6th edition of The World Games took place from 16 to 26 August 2001 in the port city of Akita in north-western Japan. 27 sports (22 in the official programme plus five invitational sports) thrilled the city of about 310,000 inhabitants during the ten days of competition. After the première in the USA and four editions in Europe, The World Games were held in Asia for the first time.

A total of 127,000 spectators attended the events. 1,968 athletes competed in the 157 medal events in the official programme, their goal being the gold medals of The World Games. A total of 13 titles were awarded in the 5 invitational sports. Competitors from 80 nations took part in The World Games 2001. The most successful nation within the official programme was Russia with 24 gold medals, 15 silver and 5 bronze, followed in the medal tally by the USA with 14/8/8 and Germany with 10/10/12 medals. The host country was ranked seventh with 9/6/10 medals.

Russia dominated mainly in the Gymnastics disciplines, and collected 12 of its 24 gold medals in this sport alone. Accordingly, the most successful individual athlete came from Russia and was a gymnast: Irina Tchachina, who won silver in Rhythmic Gymnastics at the Olympic Games in Athens, secured all four gold medals in the individual disciplines at the Akita Games. The most successful male athlete was Evgueni Skorjenko (Russia) with three gold medals in Finswimming.

Seven Debuts on the Programme

The individual disciplines in Rhythmic Sports Gymnastics were part of the official competition programme of The World Games for the first time. Billiards, Flying Disc and Orienteering also made their debut. Within the invitational sports programme, Sumo and Beach Handball premièred, as well as Tug of War Indoor as an all-female discipline. Sumo and Tug of War Indoor became part of the official programme from 2005 (Duisburg, Germany) onwards. Beach Handball made this leap into the programme in 2013 in Cali, Colombia. The discipline Roller Hockey had its last appearance in Akita; the international federation replaced it by Inline Hockey in 2005.

Rhythmic Gymnastics at The World Games 2001

998 media representatives reported on the competitions at the 21 venues. The Japanese Broadcasting Corporation NHK produced the television pictures from the Games. For the first time, all sports during The World Games were covered by the TV production. The spectacular opening ceremony with its colourful show highlights caused a sensation on 16 August 2001 at the Yabase Stadium. The opening of the Games was conducted by Atsuko Toyama, the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan. The closing ceremony was also originally planned for Yabase Stadium, but due to unfavourable weather conditions the organisers decided to move to the Yuwa Skydome for the farewell show on 26 August 2001.

An unusual event challenged the organisers: a typhoon that raged over the city for two days during the Games forced many competitions to be either started later or moved to other venues. The good news: no event had to be cancelled.

For the first time, some National Olympic Committees organised hotel accommodation for their athletes, beyond the period of hosting by the IWGA. This can be seen as a sign of the further development of the Games.

The World Games Plaza

The main innovation was the organisation of The World Games Plaza in the centre of the city. The daily cultural festival made it possible for athletes, fans and residents of Akita to meet and to celebrate the event. The première proved so successful that it has since become an integral part of The World Games experience.

The mascots of The World Games 2001 in Akita were based on Namahage, fearsome ogres from folk myths; one was named Huggy and the other one Nummy.

One of the legacies of the Games relates to the Japanese World Games Association. It was established in 1985 as the Japan World Games Commission by domestic The World Games-related sports associations. After being reorganised into the Japan World Games Association (JWGA) in December 1991, the association received non-profit organisation (NPO) corporate status in June 2001 and continues to promote The World Games sports in Japan. Fumio Morooka, member of JWGA, served on the IWGA Board of Directors from 2014 to 2018.

 The World Games is a multi-sport event staged every four years by the International World Games Association under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee. The 11th edition of The World Games will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, 7-17 July 2022. 3,600 athletes from over 30 sports and 100 countries will take part in The World Games.

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