When Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa returned home from the London 2012 with Japan's first Olympic medal after the sport was incorporated at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games, who would have thought that it will change the badminton scenario of an island nation forever? In the successive Olympics, which was Rio 2016, Japan won two medals, including its first ever Olympic gold medal in badminton.
Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi, two school friends, won the gold medal in women's doubles, a category in which China had absolute dominance in the major events right from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Nozomi Okuhara’s bronze in women's singles in that same edition raised their morale to the next level.
If we see the statistics of the last 2 World Championships, Japan has won a total of 10 medals, including 3 gold medals. with one each in men's singles, women's singles and women's doubles.
Nozomi Okuhara won the World Championship title in Glasgow 2017 after 40 years since Japan's first title in 1977. In the recently-concluded World Championship in Nanjing 2018, Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara won the title in women's doubles and Kento Momota in men's singles.
Also at the Asian Games 2018, Japan won a total of 6 medals, including a gold medal in the women's team event. Their recent success in the team events like the Thomas and Uber Cup finals and the Asian Championships (both team and individual event) has left no doubt about the capabilities of the players. Their continuous winning performances in the Superseries and World Tour level says a lot about how they are eager to prove themselves at the world stage.
If we count the abilities and consistency by their world rankings, then there is a total of 13 players or pairs in the top 10 in 5 categories, including top spots in men's singles and women's doubles.
Japan's depth in women's doubles is quite remarkable; five of the top 10 pairs in women's doubles are from Japan and they are winning medals and titles in all the major tournaments. Misaki Matsumoto, Ayaka Takahashi, Yuki Fukushima, Sayaka Hirota, Mayu Matsutomo, Wakana Nagahara are reigning at the top now, besides which there are many Japanese players who can beat anyone in the world on a given day.
The most promising player from Japan in men's singles, Kento Momota proved himself after the ban and, with his stunning comeback and game style, he is now the best in men's singles.
Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi, with their fast-moving and retrieving game styles, have made it difficult for other shuttlers to win against them and they are also demonstrating that height has nothing to do with the game. Many more Japanese shuttlers in their respective categories are fighting hard to seek the attention of the world.
And as we are now progressing towards the Tokyo Olympics 2020, the shuttlers from the host nation will definitely try their best to finish at the top of the podium and bring many more glories to the Land of the Rising Sun. The eyes are now on Park Joo-bong’s students to see how high they can rise to the expectations of the nation, handle the pressure situations and prove themselves at the right time.Published 26 Oct 2018, 09:18 IST