SAGAMIHARA CITY, Japan (July 26, 2021) – About 50 U.S. Army Japan volunteers helped Sagamihara City officials successfully host the Men’s and Women’s Road Race cycling events on the first two days of the Tokyo Olympic Games July 24 and 25.
Volunteers said they jumped at the chance for the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
USARJ’s Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Eason said he asked himself a pretty simple question when he was offered the opportunity to join members of Camp Zama’s Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program, or BOSS, to volunteer.
“What is the possibility of being able to volunteer for the Olympics?” he explained. “Any Olympics, anywhere, ever?”
Eason volunteered both days, helping with the men’s race on Saturday, and the women’s race on Sunday. Temperatures soared into the 90s on both days, making for long, hot shifts.
The cycling events—a 151-mile men's race and 91-mile women's race—transited through roughly 18 miles of Sagamihara City. Countless volunteers were needed to line the course to set up barriers, ensure the overall safety of the participants, and to clean up after the cyclists blew through in pursuit of Olympic gold.
Sagamihara City officials originally began discussions with U.S. Army Garrison Japan in 2018 on a way to include the Army community to help celebrate their long-standing friendship and various community exchanges.
What they couldn’t predict, however, was COVID-19 and the impact the pandemic would have on the Olympics, to include a yearlong delay of the games. Despite the uncertainty, Army and city officials continued their planning, which included a rehearsal in the summer of 2020.
Randy Benton, the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation BOSS program adviser, was involved in the planning since the beginning. He said he was excited the Soldiers were actually able to assist.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity to be a partner with the city,” he said. “It’s important for the Japanese people to see the U.S. Army engaged in the community.”
The event offered Sgt. Renalyn Lawson the opportunity to be part of history, while meeting some great people.
“I wanted to be part of it,” Lawson said of the Olympics. “And it was amazing to get to work with the Japanese volunteers, too.”
Capt. Frank Taylor, assigned to USAG Japan, said being on the scene gave him a greater appreciation of the games.
“Yeah, it was really exciting getting to see the racers who have worked their whole lives for that moment,” Taylor said.
Taylor also said it was educational to see the behind-the-scenes work that goes into hosting an event of such magnitude. Taylor and his fellow volunteers arrived hours in advance for safety briefings and the explanation of their duties. Dozens of police, support and other Olympic staffing vehicles passed the volunteers, some broadcasting “thank you” messages in English.
Volunteer Richard Meyer, a cycling enthusiast, said he was glad he participated.
“I love it; it’s my second day here,” he said Sunday while cleaning up after the race.
Meyer said he considers the Olympic races and the Tour de France the world’s two premier cycling events, so he definitely wanted to take part and lend a hand.
Yoshikazu Kajino, a senior staff member of the Sagamihara City Olympic and Paralympic Games Promotion Division, offered his thanks to all the USARJ volunteers and staff who participated despite the extreme weather conditions.
“Although it was extremely hot, I think that the Army members followed the instructions well from the leaders, set up the course, and provided guidance along the road,” he said. “We were very satisfied and also very happy to be able to interact with them through the event. Thanks to everyone’s great work, we were able to execute the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Cycling Road Race event successfully.”