Tokyo 2020 July 23-Aug 8

Japanese stars all set to shine at home Games

From left: Japanese star athletes Kento Momota, Rikako Ikee, Naomi Osaka, Hideki Matsuyama and Ryota Yamagata are the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Japanese star athletes Kento Momota (above), Rikako Ikee, Naomi Osaka, Hideki Matsuyama and Ryota Yamagata are the Tokyo 2020 Games.PHOTO: REUTERS
From left: Japanese star athletes Kento Momota, Rikako Ikee, Naomi Osaka, Hideki Matsuyama and Ryota Yamagata are the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Japanese star athletes Kento Momota, Rikako Ikee (above), Naomi Osaka, Hideki Matsuyama and Ryota Yamagata are the Tokyo 2020 Games.PHOTO: REUTERS
From left: Japanese star athletes Kento Momota, Rikako Ikee, Naomi Osaka, Hideki Matsuyama and Ryota Yamagata are the Tokyo 2020 Games.
From left: Japanese star athletes Kento Momota, Rikako Ikee, Naomi Osaka (above), Hideki Matsuyama and Ryota Yamagata are the Tokyo 2020 Games.PHOTO: REUTERS
From left: Japanese star athletes Kento Momota, Rikako Ikee, Naomi Osaka, Hideki Matsuyama and Ryota Yamagata are the Tokyo 2020 Games.
From left: Japanese star athletes Kento Momota, Rikako Ikee, Naomi Osaka, Hideki Matsuyama (above) and Ryota Yamagata are the Tokyo 2020 Games.PHOTO: REUTERS
From left: Japanese star athletes Kento Momota, Rikako Ikee, Naomi Osaka, Hideki Matsuyama and Ryota Yamagata are the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Japanese star athletes Kento Momota, Rikako Ikee, Naomi Osaka, Hideki Matsuyama and Ryota Yamagata (above) are the Tokyo 2020 Games.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • Host nation Japan will have a record 582 athletes at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, surpassing the previous record of 355 picked for the 1964 Tokyo Games.

With such a large contingent, the Japanese Olympic Committee has set a target of 30 gold medals at this summer's Games - nearly double the previous best of 16 in 1964 and 2004.

Here are some of the country's gold-medal prospects.

KENTO MOMOTA (Badminton)

All eyes will be on the men's singles world No. 1, who has overcome personal and professional problems on the way to the Games, including contracting Covid-19.

Months before the Rio Games in 2016, he was embroiled in an illegal gambling scandal that led to his suspension by the Nippon Badminton Association and his absence in Brazil five years ago.

Having clawed his way back into the elite with a 39-match unbeaten streak, his Olympic dreams were again threatened in January last year when he was involved in an accident that killed the van driver who had been ferrying his entourage to the airport following his Malaysia Masters win.

He suffered a broken nose and eye socket and other facial injuries that left him fearing for his career.

But the pandemic gave Momota 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.

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.

While she will not be participating in any individual events, the six-gold medallist at the 2018 Asian Games will still be a firm favourite in the pool this summer.

She marked her 21st birthday earlier this month as she and her teammates broke the national record for the women's 200m relay, and Ikee should roar through the 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley relays at the Tokyo Games.

NAOMI OSAKA (Tennis)

The four-time Grand Slam singles champion is widely considered a favourite for gold as she makes her Olympic debut at her home Games and on the hard court, where she has won all her Majors.

Osaka, who was named this year's Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year, has been praised for raising awareness of issues such as police violence, racial injustice and mental health.

HIDEKI MATSUYAMA (Golf)

The top-ranked Japanese golfer was already a favourite for the men's golf competition even before his Masters triumph in April made him the first male golfer from his country to win a Major.

He will be in familiar surroundings when he makes his Olympic debut at the Kasumigaseki Country Club that is hosting the golf competition. It was the site of one of his previous big wins, the 2010 Asian Amateur Championship.

MEN'S 4X100M RELAY TEAM

The Japanese men's 4x100m relay team surprised the world when they captured the silver medal at the 2016 Rio Games, defeating traditional powerhouses the United States and Canada.

Rather than speed, their smooth baton passing has been touted as a recipe for their silver win and they will hope to repeat the same trick. Ryota Yamagata, who was part of that team, will run again in what will be his third Olympics. He is also the captain of Japan's team at the Tokyo Games.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2021, with the headline 'Japanese stars all set to shine at home Games'. Subscribe