Kiyomi Watanabe (in blue) holds a dominant position over Malaysia’s Noe Wai Chu Myat by winning gold at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. —SHERWIN VARDELEON
TOKYO – Kiyomi Watanabe often runs in the opposite direction of the spotlight.
“I am shy and rarely appear in news or interviews,” Watanabe told the Inquirer’s SportsIQ in an interview that airs Thursday.
That’s why the judo star – and more so Irene – was taken aback when the spotlight chased her.
Watanabe was named the Philippine flag bearer at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday, a rare public event for the Cebu-born athlete who normally bathes in the limelight for around four minutes or less – about the time it takes him to dismantle his opponents on the mat.
“I was surprised when I was chosen to be the flag bearer,” said Watanabe, who spoke in Japanese during the interview.
The daughter of a Japanese father and a Filipino mother, Watanabe made the most of the situation, where pandemic lockdowns delayed her training opportunities for the Summer Games.
“Due to COVID-19, I did my best to practice in a restricted environment. I do bodybuilding, judo training in Yamanashi (Prefecture) or in Tokyo with Waseda (university team), ”said the 24-year-old.
The Asian Games silver medalist recently struggled with his elbow. Watanabe said “the elbow is not yet completely healed”.
“[But] it already has strength so I don’t think that will be a problem, “
The upgrade will also not be in opposition, she said.
Watanabe led the South East Asian Games (SEA), but with the best judokas in the world gathered here, she faces tougher odds.
Watanabe just doesn’t see it that way.
“The SEA Games, the Asian Games and the Olympics are all the same competition,” she said. “And I’m training anyway, so I’m going to go to the Olympics with the same feeling I always have. I always intend to compete in any game.
And she will compete with one goal in mind.
“[M]he goal is to win a medal, so I’m just going to do my best to achieve that goal, and I hope everyone will continue to support me, ”said Watanabe.
Watanabe dives into action on July 27 in the women’s -63-kilogram division playoff.
But before that, she can wear the Philippine flag in the shortened opening ceremony with boxing’s Eumir Marcial.
And she swears to take that responsibility as seriously as she does for her fights.
“I am very happy to have been chosen as one of the honored flag bearers. On the day of the opening ceremony, I will hold the flag firmly and walk proudly as the representative of the country, ”she promised.
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