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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Anything is possible for judoka Watanabe

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By John Christopher Aquino

After 10 years of representing the Philippines in international competitions, Kiyomi Watanabe is finally headed to the biggest stage in all of sports — the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. 

Her Filipino roots stem back to her mother, Irene Sarausad, who is a Toledo City native. Watanabe was born in Cebu City, where she spent most of her childhood before relocating to Japan, where she honed her judo skills as she entered the sport as a fifth-grader. 

She chose to represent the Philippines over Japan as she claims that the Philippine team provided her support. She feels happier representing the country.

Kiyomi Watanabe settles for the silver during the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games.
Kiyomi Watanabe settles for the silver during the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games.

Watanabe first held the Philippine flag back in 2011, during the Southeast Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, where she competed in the -70 KG weight class and bagged a bronze medal for the Philippines. The Fil-Japanese was only 14 years old at the time.

She then proceeded to carve her path in the world of judo when she won the gold at the 2013 Southeast Asian Games in the -63 kg event, where she beat Vietnam’s Bùi Thị Hòa. In the same year, she also brought home a bronze medal in the Asian Youth Games held in China. 

The following year also saw success for the young warrior as she gave the Philippines its first gold medal in the Asian Junior Judo Championships in Hong Kong, where she outperformed Uzbek Tursunpashasha Nurmetova and Indian Renu Kundu. 

Three years later, she set widened her horizons further as she competed in the Grand Slam Paris, held yearly at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy in Paris. Watanabe won the Philippines its first-ever medal in the International Judo Federation event as she beat British Lucy Renshall in the -63 kg event. She also beat top seeds who competed in the Rio Olympics in the same tournament.

In the same year, she bagged a silver medal in the 2017 European Women’s Open Tournament in Austria. Later on, she was ranked 23rd in the judo world rankings at the time.

Watanabe continued her judo success the following year as she earned a silver medal in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games, losing to Japan’s Nami Nabekura. Despite the setback, she still earned the Philippines’ first ever medal since the sport was introduced in the Asiad during the 80s. 

In between these international victories, she also competed nationally in Japan where she garnered most valuable player awards under the Waseda University team in the All-Japan University Championship, where she also won gold. 

The coronavirus pandemic caused the Tokyo Olympics to be rescheduled this year, which was seen as a blessing in disguise for Watanabe as she suffered a dislocated elbow during the Dusseldorf Grand Slam held in Germany in early 2020. 

Now aged 24 and fully recovered, she qualified for the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics as she met the qualifications when she made it to the 41st rank with 1,506 points via the continental quota of 10 judokas from Asia according to the International Judo Federation’s Olympian rankings. With this qualification, she is set to compete as the first-ever Filipina Olympian for judo and the third judo bet  from the Philippines after Kodo Nakano, who competed in 2016 in the Rio De Janeiro Olympics and Tomohiko Hoshina, who participated in the 2012 London games.

According to Dave Carter, Philippine Judo Federation president, Watanabe is capable of being the first Filipino, who can bring home the gold given her achievements and medals she had won in her career. Now ranked 39th in the world, she is currently training in Japan’s Waseda University under Yazaki Yuta, a judo gold medalist in the -90 kg weight class in the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea. 

Carter pointed to 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.

“Kagaya lang din noong lumaban siya ng Asian Games. It happened. She defeated Korea and the others na nandoon sa bracket niya. Kaya anything is possible talaga,” said Carter in the Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum online edition

“Lahat possible. Hindi natin nililimitahan ‘yung kakayanan ng ating manlalaro. Malakas itong player natin na ito, pati ‘yung puso niya. Talagang fighter ito,” Carter added.

PJF cites that the aspiring gold medalist will have to win 3 matches for her to proceed to the quarterfinals and 5 or 6 matches all in all to qualify for the gold-medal round. Watanabe’s first match is scheduled on July 27 in the women’s -63 kg elimination rounds. The event will be held at the Nippon Budokan indoor arena located in Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan as the judo events will officially begin on the 24th starting with the women’s -48 kg elimination rounds.

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