Just like in the last Asian Games, Kiyomi Watanabe is capable of pulling a surprise in the coming Tokyo Olympics.
Dave Carter, president of the Philippine Judo Federation (PJF), said Watanabe winning a medal, much more a first-ever Olympic gold for the country, is very possible given the track record of the 24-year-old Fil-Japanese in the sport.
He cited Watanabe’s silver medal feat in the 2018 Asiad in Jakarta where she came close to winning the gold but eventually settled for a runner-up finish against Nami Nabekura of Japan in the women’s -63 kg class.
“Kagaya lang din nung lumaban siya ng Asian Games nung nakaraan. It happened. She defeated Korea and the others na nandun sa bracket niya. Kaya anything is possible talaga,” said Carter in the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum online edition on Tuesday.
“Lahat possible. Hindi natin nililimitahan yung kakayanan ng ating manlalaro. Malakas itong player natin na ito, pati yung puso niya. Talagang fighter ito.”
Watanabe clinched a berth in the Tokyo Games via continental quota as certified by the International Judo Federation. She becomes the first Filipina judoka to make the Olympics.
Moreover, she is the third straight Philippine bet in judo to see action in the quadrennial meet after Tomohiko Hoshina and Kodo Nakano in the 2012 London and 2016 Rio De Janeiro editions, respectively.
And the 41st-ranked half-middleweight judoka in the world is wasting no time getting to prepare for the biggest fight of her career.
Watanabe, a four-time Southeast Asian Games gold medalist, is currently in deep training at Waseda University in Japan, where she is currently based. Moreoever, she is working under sensei Yazaki Yuta, a gold medal winner (-90 kg) in the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea.
Over the weekend, they did some hiking at the Yamanashi Prefecture and had been regularly sparring with male judokas, according to Carter in the session presented by San Miguel Corporation (SMC), MILO, Amelie Hotel Manila, Braska Restaurant, and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).
“Okay naman si Kiyomi, pero yung coach niya pinapalayo siya sa pressure. Of course, a lot of people want to interview her, and alam ninyo naman medyo shy itong si Kiyomi. At ang style niya pag lalo siyang nape-pressure parang naaapektuhan ang game niya. Mas maganda yung iniiisip niya maglalaro lang siya sa bayan,” said Carter in the same session powered by Smart and Upstream Media as the official webcast partner.
“Alam naman natin yung pressure hindi naman parehas ang epekto sa iba’t ibang manlalaro.”
By the PJF’s account, Watanabe needs to win at least five to six matches to make it to the gold medal round. But three wins in the pool play would assure her of making it to the quarterfinals.
“Pag umabot siya ng quarterfinals, medyo may laban na siya diyan,” said Carter, adding entries from Europe, Brazil, France, Slovenia, and Germany are among the top bets in Kiyomi’s category.
Judo in the Tokyo Olympics will start on July 24, while Watanabe kicks off her campaign on the 27th.