Rio Olympics 2016: 9 days to go

Japanese Buddhist priest has faith in medal win

Japan's Kazuki Yazawa competing in the K-1 kayak slalom during the London 2012 Olympic Games where he finished ninth.
Japan's Kazuki Yazawa competing in the K-1 kayak slalom during the London 2012 Olympic Games where he finished ninth. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

TOKYO • Kazuki Yazawa is spending less time preparing for the Rio Olympics than he devoted training to the London Games four years ago.

This is because the Japanese canoeist became a Buddhist priest in 2013 and has to wake up before dawn every day to pray at the ancient Zenkoji Daikanjin Temple in Nagano prefecture.

At 3pm, though, he religiously changes into his sporting attire and drives his white van to the nearby Saigawa River, where he trains hard to be among the medal contenders in Brazil.

The 27-year-old believes the fewer hours he is putting in with the kayak as a Buddhist priest will not affect his chances as he plans to use his mental toughness and skill to snatch a medal.

Canoeing is Yazawa's first love. But he could not find a sponsor to support his passion after he finished ninth in the K-1 kayak slalom, a record for a Japanese canoeist, at the London Olympics.

He felt he had to find a job and was encouraged to become a priest by Kenei Koyama, his mentor and a priest who also is the chairman of the Nagano canoe association.

"I never had the intention of balancing the two," Yazawa said.

"When I started as a Buddhist priest, I had decided that my main job would be as a priest and that my life as a canoeist would be done in my spare time."

He had no choice but to increase his training regimen on the river after he won the national canoe slalom championship last year, making him a medal prospect in Rio.

"I hope to give my best performance on the grand stage of the Olympics, and come back to Japan with a good feeling," he said.

Deputy chief priest Kansho Kayaki has given Yazawa the temple's full backing.

"If you can win, nothing would surpass that," Kayaki told Yazawa.

"Regardless of the results, we hope you will stay healthy, avoid injuries and complete the Games."

Yazawa will be participating in his third Olympics, following Beijing and London. And he believes he will be competing without any pressure.

"This time, I think I'm more at ease," he said. "I think I'll be able to enjoy the Games."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2016, with the headline 'Japanese Buddhist priest has faith in medal win'. Print Edition | Subscribe