A Tokyo district's uphill quest for the perfect bobsleigh

Wed Dec 4, 2013 5:48am EST
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By Takashi Umekawa

TOKYO (Reuters) - At the end of November, Satoshi Kosugi got terrible news: the bobsleigh he and a group of Tokyo manufacturers had spent two years building for the Sochi Olympics would not be used by the Japanese national team.

Japan has sent bobsledders to the Winter Olympics before but due to budget constraints they had always raced in used, foreign-made sleighs that didn't fit Japanese athletes properly.

Kosugi decided to rectify the situation, and so began the quest to create a homemade sleigh the national team could use at the Olympics for the first time.

It was a brave move, given that foreign teams are often supported by giant corporations. Ferrari develops for the Italian team, BMW supports the Germans and NASA has backed up the U.S. team in the past.

"I just couldn't believe the decision," said Kosugi, fighting for calm a day after the news came in.

The project began in 2011 when Kosugi, a civil servant in Ota - a proud but struggling area known for its small manufacturers - heard that the national team had never used a Japanese-built sleigh before.

"The foreign sleighs were a little too big for Japanese, and when it had problems no mechanics were available to fix them," he said. "The sleigh the Japanese athletes used was once repaired with adhesive tape."

So Kosugi and a group of businessmen from Ota, whose tiny factories have produced parts for rockets and Formula One cars but has been in slow decline since the glory days of the 1980s, decided something needed to be done - both for the team and to restore the lustre of Ota's name.   Continued...

A runner carries the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic torch along a bridge across Yenisei River near the Krasnoyarsk hydro electric power station near the town of Divnogorsk outside Krasnoyarsk, November 25, 2013. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin