TOKYO - Japan hope the appliance of science can trigger an Asian Games gold rush but admit they will struggle to steal hosts South Korea's thunder, insisting that building momentum for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is their top priority.
It would take an astonishing effort for the Japanese to finish above their fierce rivals in the medals table for the first time since staging Asia's biggest sporting event 20 years ago in Hiroshima.
Japan's delegation boss Tsuyoshi Aoki expects South Korea to come out guns blazing when the competition begins in the western port of Incheon on September 19, but said the quadrennial event offered the perfect opportunity for potential future Olympic medallists to shine.
"The Asian Games are the first step for Japan on the road to the Tokyo Olympics," Aoki told AFP. "Winning medals is important of course but the key factor is the platform to produce stars for the future. It's a stepping stone for them.
"Our coaching staff conduct hi-tech research on the condition of the athletes, closely analysing computer data to ensure optimal performance," he added. "We hope to improve on the 48 gold medals we won four years ago but obviously we know South Korea will be very tough." China's juggernaut has dominated the Asian Games since 1982 but the event has often served as a launching pad to world and Olympic success for Japanese athletes, as with swimmer Kosuke Kitajima and marathon runner Naoko Takahashi.
Japan expect to make a splash in the pool after winning seven gold medals at last month's Pan Pacific championships in Australia, where Kosuke Hagino's 200m individual medley victory over his hero Michael Phelps stole headlines.
Yasuhiro Koseki completed the 100-200m breaststroke double - as Kitajima famously did at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics - and will be favourite to repeat that at an Asian Games swimming competition also boasting China's Olympic champion Sun Yang and South Korea star Park Tae-hwan.
"Koseki has got a big body and he will be among the medals," said Kitajima, who broke his first world record at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan. "He pushes himself extremely hard in training which is where his power comes from. It's a big year for him."