Subscribe

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Don’t get him wrong: Yokosuka’s Sports Olympics is about athletics and international friendship, but it’s also about winning, says John Saito.

And this year’s match of muscles should be mighty as the U.S. Navy tries to stop the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force from tacking another year on to its three-year winning streak on Friday, he said.

“We want the trophy back,” Saito said. As Yokosuka’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation Special Activities manager, Saito coordinates the Navy team in the athletic contest that started almost 20 years ago.

“Admirals from both Japan and the Navy got together and decided they wanted to add more to the relationship between the navies,” Saito said. “We practice together at sea all the time. But what about on shore? This is a good way to keep good relations.”

In Friday’s games, more than 200 athletes will compete in six events: running, swimming, bowling, volleyball, soccer and softball. A seventh event — golf — was held earlier this month. Sports are chosen draft-style from a master list of 10-15 choices.

Players for the base teams are scouted and recruited, just like in the big leagues, said Saito. He requests victors from the Captain’s Cup, the annual athletic contest between all ship and shore commands, get a team together. For example, base commander Capt. Greg Cornish is heading up the volleyball team, USS Kitty Hawk’s commanding officer Capt. Ed McNamee is organizing the soccer team and Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan commanding officer Rear Adm. James D. Kelly led the 10-player golf team to an 81-stroke victory over the Japanese at Naval Air Facility Atsugi on May 13.

But part of the beauty of the games is that it creates a type of diplomacy that extends beyond leadership and mixes people of all ranks and ages together, Saito said.

“It’s for everybody,” Saito said.

Friday’s events kick off at 9 a.m. with opening ceremonies at Thew Gym, where both teams will return last year’s trophies. Closing ceremonies start at 3:45 p.m., when the trophies are handed back out to the 2006 winners. Then everyone socializes at a Texas-style barbecue.

“The competition creates good friendships,” Saito said. “It’s a common language.”

Friday’s Olympics schedule

U.S. Navy/Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Sports Olympics schedule. All events listed below are to take place Friday.

Opening ceremony: 9 a.m., Thew Gym

5K run: 10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. in front of the new gym

Bowling: 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. at bowling alley

Volleyball: 1:30 p.m. – 3 p.m., Thew Gym

Soccer: noon – 2 p.m., Briggs Bay Field

Swimming: 1 p.m. – 3 p.m., the Natatorium

Softball: 1 p.m. – 2:30 p.m., Berkey Field

Closing ceremony: 3:45 p.m., Thew Gym

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up