July 20 (Reuters) – Japanese athletes to watch at their home Olympics.
KOHEI UCHIMURA, GYMNASTICS
Uchimura qualified for his fourth and final Games in a tiebreaker and is set to end his illustrious Olympic career in his native Japan.
Sometimes called “King Kohei”, Uchimura became the first male gymnast in 44 years to win back-to-back Olympic all-around titles at the 2016 Games, leading Japan to gold in the team event.
RIKAKO IKEE, SWIMMING
After surviving leukaemia, just being on Japan’s Olympic team at a home Games may already be a victory for Rikako Ikee.
The swimming star will be a firm favourite in the pool this summer.
She marked her 21st birthday in July as she and her teammates broke the national record for the women’s 200-metre relay.
After winning six gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games and four titles at Japan’s national championship this April, Ikee should roar through the 400-metres freestyle relay and 4×100 medley relay at the Tokyo Games.
NAOMI OSAKA, TENNIS
Four-time Grand Slam singles champion Naomi Osaka is widely considered a favourite for gold as she makes her Olympic debut at her home Games and on her favourite hard court surface.
Osaka, who was named 2021 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year, has been praised for using her platform to raise awareness of issues such as police violence, racial injustice and mental health.
KENTO MOMOTA, BADMINTON
All eyes will be on the men’s singles world number one, who has overcome personal and professional problems on the way to the Tokyo Olympics, including contracting COVID-19.
Months before the Rio Games in 2016, Momota was embroiled in an illegal gambling scandal that led to his suspension by the Nippon Badminton Association. He was also removed from the world rankings. Momota got back on the court in 2017 at the rank of 282th clawed his way back with a 39-match unbeaten streak.
Momota’s Olympic dreams were again threatened in early 2020 when he was involved in a fatal car accident. But the pandemic gave him time to recover and he made his comeback at the All-England Open in March, raising Japanese hopes that he can challenge for Olympic gold.
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA, GOLF
The top-ranked Japanese golfer, Matsuyama was already widely considered a favourite for the men’s golf competition in Tokyo even before his Masters triumph in April made him the first Japanese golfer to win a men’s major championship.
Matsuyama will be in familiar surroundings when he makes his Olympics debut as the Kasumigaseki Country Club that is hosting the golfing competition. It was the site of one of his previous big wins, the 2010 Asian Amateur Championship.
MEN’S 4×100-METRE RELAY TEAM
The Japan men’s 4×100-metre relay team surprised the world when it captured the silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. They defeated United States and Canada.
Rather than speed, their smooth baton-passing has been touted as a recipe for their silver win.
Sprinter Ryota Yamagata who was part of the relay team at Rio, will run again in the relay this summer at his third Olympics. Yamagata is also the captain of Japan’s team at the Tokyo Games. (Reporting by Ju-min Park)
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