Tears flowed freely from Nozomi Okuhara’s eyes as she sought inspiration from compatriot and judoka Naohisa Takato, who won Japan’s first gold medal at Tokyo 2020 yesterday.
Takato, like Okuhara, was a bronze medallist at Rio 2016, and Okuhara hoped the connection would extend to her winning a gold medal on home soil.
An emotional Okuhara talked of the challenges under which the Games are being held, and hoped her performance would make her country happy.
“If the Olympics would’ve been held in some other country and not Japan, I wouldn’t have felt like this. We’ve waited for four years. People are cheering for us, but nobody’s here at the venue. So I couldn’t control my feelings today,” the world No.3 said, after beating Germany’s Yvonne Li 21-17 21-4.
“But I have to distinguish between my feelings on court and off it. I watched judo yesterday. I have to change my mind from now on. Takato got gold medal. I’d like to follow his example. He did it though so much hardship. In Rio 2016, Takato got bronze, and I also got bronze in Rio. So like him I would also like to go for gold. He has inspired me.”
Okuhara, facing Yvonne Li women’s singles Group E, said it took her time to adjust to the feeling of playing in a near-empty hall. After a close first game, the Japanese powered past the German.
“There’s no audience here. I’ve been expecting to play at the Olympics, but this situation is different, so I couldn’t get used to it and I lost a few points at the beginning. I like to get a good result, and people have supported me, and I want my play to make them happy. I’m aiming to go for gold.”
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