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ITU President Marisol Casado visits earthquake devastated area of Japan

The first visit to the devastated region by an IOC Member.

Marisol Casado, President of the International Triathlon Union and member of the IOC, yesterday visited Shichigahama, Miyagi in the Tohoku area, a region decimated by the earthquake and tsunami in March this year. Casado is in Japan for the Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Series which goes on Monday September 19 in Yokohama but took time to survey the damage with the Mayor of Shichigahama, marking the first visit to the devastated region by an IOC Member.

Shichigahama is a triathlon mecca in Japan and has hosted events including ITU Triathlon Asian Cups since 1988. The 2011 Sendai Bay ITU Triathlon Asian Cup, slated for July 3, was cancelled following the tragic events and the Yokohama event had to be re-scheduled to September from its original date in May.

Today in Tokyo, Casado spoke at a luncheon hosted by The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan where she talked about the role of sport in the process of recovery. As well as the recent boost in the development of triathlon ahead of the 2011 Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Yokohama this weekend.

“Myself, members of the ITU and international triathletes were all deeply saddened by news of the tsunami. I have to say that this was a good opportunity to visit the eastern area. I think this is a very important and special place for triathlon in Japan and when we heard the news, we were very worried about our triathlon family in Japan,” said Casado.

She praised the rising profile of triathlon and the high standard of athletes in Japan as she visited the area and was pleased at the chance to share her feelings with the mayor.

“The 2011 Sendai Bay ITU Asian Cup that was originally scheduled for July 3 was cancelled following the tragic events. Having visited the area that used to be a great triathlon venue, I was again shocked by the scenery. I was saddened to see the devastation, but on the other hand I felt very positive by how fast the Japanese people came together to recover as soon as possible.”

Casado extended her support to Japan as it faces great challenges and has faith that sport offers hope to the people.

“I believe the values of sport are really important in these kinds of situation. I think that sport develops self esteem, self confidence and I suppose for the recovery, these two values are very important. It also opens the opportunity for socialising, to make friends all over the world,” she said.

“I have been engaged in this sport for a very long time since I was a high school runner, I took up triathlon and took part in the first ever triathlon race in Spain and the sport has brought me great values, inspiration, friends and humanity. It has brought a great gift to me and I hope it will be true for many other people in Japan and around the world.”

The earthquake in March meant that the original date of May 14-15 for the Yokohama event was not possible, but Casado remained confident.

“We are pleased to fly over to Japan to host the ITU Triathlon World Championship Series event. We knew that we would face a hard task following the difficult times in Japan. The easiest thing to do would have been to cancel the event in Yokohama with speculation around the safety, but not only myself, but all the athletes really wanted to come back to Japan,” Casado said.

“We understand that Japan makes a big contribution to our sport and that we wanted to come back as soon as possible to the event. Of course we were all worried about the safety, but actually our main problem was to communicate without speculation. We decided to come back after our Grand Final in Beijing and the result has been so good as we are here with a full start list of the best athletes in the world competing in Yokohama.”

As a member of the IOC, Casado explained the IOC’s concern and continued support of the relief efforts in Japan.

“I know that the IOC is also keen to help the recovery process through the power of sport announcing in May that they will establish a working group to support this country. Joint with the IOC and the Asian confederations, financial aid has been allocated to bring relief and hope to the Japanese population.”

The 2011 Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Yokohama takes place on September 18-19.  The age-group race features more than 1200 age-groupers and paratriathletes.  The elite women kick off the action on Monday – a national holiday in Japan – at 8:05am local time, followed by the elite men at 11:05am.