Judo: Kiyomi Watanabe, PH Judokas wary of Asian Games 2023 odds

It will be no walk in the park for Kiyomi Watanabe and the Filipino judokas in the 19th Asian Games.

No less than Philippine Judo Federation secretary general Dave Carter admitted that other countries have improved significantly, making it tougher for them to bag their first gold medal in the prestigious quadrennial meet.

Leah Jane Lopez will open the campaign of Team Philippines— supported by the Philippine Olympic Committee and the Philippine Sports Commission—when she battles Abiba Abuzhaknyova of Kazakhstan in the Round of 16 of the women’s 48-kilogram on Sunday at the Xiaoshan Linpu Gymnasium.

Philippine Judo Team [photo credit: PH Judo Federation Facebook]
Philippine Judo Team [photo credit: PH Judo Federation Facebook]

Also wading into battle is Shugen Nakano, who will face Saoud Alamiri of Kuwait in the Round of 32 of the men’s 66-kilogram.

The 26-year-old Nakano clinched the gold medal in the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi in 2022 before settling for silver in the 32nd biennial meet in Cambodia last May.

He will be competing against a 21-year-old Kuwaiti who finished fifth in the 2023 Arab Judo Championships and seventh in the 2021 Asia-Oceania Judo Championships.

Aside from Nakano and Lopez, comprising the national judo squad are Kessie Nakano (men’s 73-kg), John Viron Ferrer (men’s 81-kg), Carl Dave Aseneta (men’s 100-kg), Rena Furukawa (women’s 57-kg), Ryoko Salinas (women’s 70-kg), Dylwynn Gimena (women’s 78-kg), and Watanabe (women’s 63-kg).

Their coaches are Franco Teves, Gilbert Ramirez and Olympian Kodo Nakano in this four-day tourney that drew 203 competitors from 28 countries.

“Winning the gold medal will not be easy. But if we’re talking about medals of any color, I think our athletes have a chance,” Carter stated.

All eyes on Kiyomi Watanabe

Watanabe, 27, is the country’s brightest hope to win a medal.

She is a former SEA Games champion but missed the Hanoi edition in 2022 after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament tear.

In the previous Asian Games in Jakarta in 2018, she had a dominant run to the final, but lost to Japanese powerhouse Nabi Nabekura in the gold medal match. “Realistically speaking, it won’t be easy,” Carter said.

“After her first match on Monday, she will be facing the top player in Asia. It’s gonna be tough.”

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