By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) – Named after the Olympic flame when she was born days before Japan hosted the Summer Olympics in 1964, Seiko Hashimoto has lived up to her name by taking part in seven Olympics and doing it in two sports.
The 54-year-old ruling party lawmaker now assumes the post of Olympics minister in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reshuffled cabinet, allowing her to oversee Japan’s second hosting of the Summer Games that begin on July 24, 2020.
Best known as a speed skater, Hashimoto – who hails from Japan’s wintry northernmost main island of Hokkaido – competed in Games from Sarajevo in 1984 to Atlanta in 1996. Three of these she took part in as a cyclist after deciding to compete in the discipline she originally took up for off-season training.
Her first name, Seiko, is written with the same first character as the Japanese for “Olympic flame” – seika – in commemoration of the 1964 event, which opened five days after her birth and was a pivotal event in modern Japanese history.
Though the highest Olympic medal she won was a bronze at the 1992 Albertville Winter Games in the Ladies 1,500 meter race, she set a record for taking part in the most Olympic games of any Japanese woman.
She is also the only Japanese woman to compete in the Olympics while serving as a lawmaker, after she won election to the upper house of parliament in 1995 and finished her Olympic career at Atlanta as a cyclist a year later.
After marrying a policeman whose first wife had died, in 2000 she made history again by becoming the first upper house lawmaker to give birth while holding office. She kept working almost until her daughter was born, reportedly just two hours after she entered hospital.
Hashimoto’s husband brought three children to their marriage and they had two more, making her the mother of six – three boys and three girls. She has focused on education and children in her policy pursuits and also puts priority on health issues and Japan’s falling birth rate.
Currently vice president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, she has also served as a Tokyo 2020 Executive Board member and president of the Japanese Skating Association.
Hashimoto will also serve as Minister in Charge of Women’s Empowerment.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Stephen Coates)