Tokyo Legends Inspiring Current Stars

The home court pressure on Japan’s badminton players to excel at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will no doubt be profound.

Recent HSBC BWF World Tour Finals 2019 runners-up and world champions Mayu Matsumoto/Wakana Nagahara, as well as world No.2 pair Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota, lead a strong contingent of women’s doubles candidates eyeing off gold next summer.

But they won’t have to search too far in seeking advice from those who have reached the top.

Trail-blazing duo, Etsuko Toganoo and Emiko Ueno, who claimed the very first women’s doubles World Championships crown in 1977, are urging their young compatriots to ensure the host nation reaches the final of all five disciplines next summer.

Etsuko Toganoo (left) and Emiko Ueno pose with their medals during a press conference on arrival after winning the women’s doubles at the first Badminton World Championships in Sweden on May 11, 1977 in Tokyo, Japan. Image: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images.

The pair who brought the Land of the Rising Sun glory in badminton’s first global event issued the challenge as they watched Matsumoto/Nagahara and Fukushima/Hirota fight out the women’s doubles final at the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2019 in Basel this August.

“At the Tokyo Olympics we would like Japan to reach the final in all five categories,” declared Toganoo, laughing as her former playing partner nodded in agreement.

“We would like even more success. We want our players to surprise the world!”

She and Ueno can sure speak about surprises, having pulled off their own very pleasant one 42 years ago in Malmo, Sweden, outgunning all others in women’s doubles.

It was a landmark for badminton’s history books; one of which Japan is justifiably proud. The duo recalled the euphoria that greeted their return home, with compatriots hailing their success at the then International Badminton Federation’s first World Championships.

“It was a special feeling. Everyone was very happy and so were we to win the first World Championships,” reminisced Toganoo.

Toganoo and Ueno at the 25th Edition World Championships Celebrations in Basel.

These days, Toganoo is awed by what she sees on court.

“The speed is so much faster and the tactics are more sophisticated. I’m really pleased to see how it has developed skill-wise and how fast they play,” said the 69-year-old.

“When we played, badminton was not a major sport but now it is a global sport. There are many articles in Japanese newspapers, and it is shown on television a lot. It’s amazing how much has changed,” added Ueno.

While not as fleet-footed as today’s elite crop, both women are still on court regularly.

Toganoo plays “two to three times weekly”, while 62-year-old Ueno plays daily and coaches “from primary school to university level as well as recreational players”.

Maybe they fancy a crack at the top Japanese women’s doubles stars?

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