Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998 Closing Ceremony. As we commemorate this historic occasion, we reflect upon the lasting legacy of the XVIII Olympic Winter Games, a multi-sport event that paved the way for Japan to become a top destination for winter sports — and once again an Olympic host with the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.
On 7 February 1998, 50,000 spectators and 2,176 athletes representing 72 nations filled the Minami-Nagano Sports Park to witness Emperor Akihito officially open the XVIII Olympic Winter Games. With all eyes on Nagano, the momentous event saw the Winter Games debut of women’s ice hockey, the inaugural participation of National Hockey League (NHL) players, and the return of curling as an official medal event for the first time in 70 years, as well as the first-ever snowboarding halfpipe and giant slalom medal events for both women and men.
While the Nagano Games etched many sports-related firsts into the record books, they also positioned the bustling Japanese city — and the greater Chūbu region in which it is nestled — as a premiere global destination for winter sports. The result: a strong, sustainable legacy that lives on today.
“I think the Nagano Olympics were a big success, including the legacy,” said Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda, who served as Sports Director for the Nagano Organising Committee for the Olympic Games.
Japan will once again host an Olympic Games, this time in the summer of 2020 in Tokyo. Building upon Nagano’s notable legacy of sustainability, in improved transport and venue longevity and beyond, plans are already underway for the similar optimisation of the Summer Games. The organisers’ overarching goal is to maximise the benefits for the local environment and the residents of Tokyo and the greater region. Some of the key sustainability themes for the 2020 Games include low carbon management, resource management and protecting the natural environment, and safeguarding local biodiversity.
Olympic Games in Japan: building on Nagano’s legacy
Nagano is home to five Olympic venues in all. Each remains active and alive with a flurry of activities today, including the Minami-Nagano Sports Park, where the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 1998 Winter Games unfolded. Each year in April, the city hosts the Nagano Olympic Commemorative Marathon, which sees participants run past four of the former Olympic venues.
“If you’re talking about a hard legacy, the M-Wave speed skating rink holds competitions every year, and it’s a very important training centre for Japanese sport,” Takeda continued. “The M-Wave hosts a lot of different sporting events, and it has seen a lot of use since the Olympics ended.”
Transport and infrastructure
The Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998 created an efficient network of sustainable infrastructure that continues to serve the community and support the nation’s economic and sporting goals to this day.
Before the Games, it took up to three hours to travel between Tokyo and Nagano by rail. The extension of the Shinkansen Bullet Train from Takasaki to Nagano — which was completed five months before the 1998 Opening Ceremony — reduced the 200km journey to less than 80 minutes.
Additionally, the city's main railway hub, Nagano Station, and the smaller Shinonoi Station, were expanded ahead of the Games, with the line carrying up to 60,000 passengers per day during the Games. Today, the route carries more than 10 million passengers each year, helping to facilitate sustained economic benefits through local commerce and tourism.
Improvements were also made to the Nagano prefecture road network, with the Nagano and Joshinetsu expressways constructed to improve access between Nagano, Tokyo and other prefectures, as well as the competition venues.
Nagano’s enduring sports legacy
The many venues built for the Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998 continue to shape the region’s enduring status as one of Japan’s best winter sports destinations, attracting visitors from across the country and the world.
Nagano White Ring Arena
Twenty years after hosting the figure skating and short track speed skating, the arena continues to be a dynamic, multi-sport facility, used by local teams and schools. Throughout the year it hosts a variety of local, national and international championships.
Nagano Olympic Stadium
This is now the centrepiece of the Minami Nagano Sports Park, which includes a pool and gymnasium. The 35,000-seat stadium operates as a home for baseball, with matches held every weekend between March and November, and evening training sessions during the week in the winter. Its internal training facilities are fully booked throughout the year.
This sweeping facility was the epicentre for speed skating at the 1998 Winter Games. Today, the M-Wave continues to host speed skating competitions and is the training centre for the Japanese national team in the winter. Concerts and exhibitions are regularly held at the venue throughout the rest of the year. The rink is open for the public to enjoy from October to March.
Home to the Nagano Olympic Museum, today the M-Wave plays host to activities carried out by volunteers from the 1998 Games. The Museum features memorabilia from the Nagano Olympic and Paralympic Games, including medals, torches, team uniforms and other clothing items, as well as a two-man bobsled.
Nagano Big Hat
This venue hosted several historic ice hockey games in 1998. Today, the facility hosts conferences and concerts from March to November. In the winter, the ice is back on the field and used by local figure skaters and ice hockey teams for training and hosting regional and national sporting events. The Main Press Centre is now a commercial centre.
Legacy of a sustainable environment
Alongside the buildings that continue to serve the community and the nation 20 years after the Games, the outdoor facilities are also providing a sporting legacy in that they serve as home for a number of national teams.
The Hakuba Region, the Iizuna Ski Ground and Nozawa Onsen all hosted events during the 1998 Winter Games, and continue to attract visitors who watch and participate in a variety of outdoor sports and activities throughout the year. They also provide training facilities for a number of national teams, helping them to compete at elite level and develop future Japanese Olympic stars.
Beyond the sporting legacy
Sport and the economy are not the only beneficiaries of the Nagano legacy. The Olympic Village has become a thriving community with its mixture of private and social housing and homes for older people.
The road to Tokyo 2020
With Japan again playing host to the Olympic Games in Tokyo in the summer of 2020, sustainability will be a top priority as organisers focus on carving out lasting positive contributions to the area, even well before the Opening Ceremony commences.
Just as event organisers carefully did while planning for and staging the Nagano Games, Tokyo’s Olympic officials are committed to incorporating strategies to yield lasting benefits for both the people and the environment in Tokyo, from enhancing the local transport infrastructure to protecting the area’s biodiversity and embracing lower carbon emission strategies for the years and decades to come. For more information about special legacy preparations underway ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games, please click here.