Comedian ‘Shizu-chan’ keeps boxing after Olympic bid dashed

by Takeshi Ozawa

Kyodo

Comedian Shizuyo Yamasaki continues to fight despite her failed attempt to compete in the women’s boxing competition at the 2012 London Olympics.

The 34-year-old Yamasaki, better known as “Shizu-chan,” was among 16 fighters at the first Challenge Match competition held in Japan for nonprofessional female boxers in early April at Tokyo’s Korakuen Hall.

“I felt scared and wanted to get away about three hours before the match,” she said.

Standing in the ring for the opening ceremony, Yamasaki saw Japanese boxing legends and other celebrities among the spectators and felt extremely nervous about her imminent bout in front of them. She locked herself in her trainer’s vehicle for an hour to overcome the pressure.

Yamasaki went on to score a comfortable victory over a Taiwanese fighter she had lost her debut match to around two years ago.

Several years after entering the entertainment industry and becoming an award-winning comedian and actress, Yamasaki was exposed to “boxercise,” a form of fitness training incorporating a number of boxing moves and techniques without the physical contact.

“I just felt good because I had gotten no physical exercise for about 10 years until then,” Yamasaki recalled.

She was interested in boxing as she read “Ashita no Joe,” a popular boxing manga story known as “Rocky Joe” overseas. But she had no intention of becoming a boxer, and regarded it as a sport for men.

But when Yamasaki played the role of a boxer in a TV drama, she sought to obtain a nonprofessional boxing license at the suggestion of her trainer. Yamasaki, 182 cm tall, was a shot-putter and soccer player in her teens. She also became acquainted with professional boxer Fujin Raika and began exercising with her.

A total of 261 women were registered as amateur boxers as of March 31 in Japan.

In 2009, the International Olympic Committee authorized the inclusion of women’s boxing for the Olympic Games in London, prompting Yamasaki and her trainer, Masahiko Umetsu, 44, to decide that she should attempt to compete.

“I thought of participating in an Olympic Games for the first time, though the Olympics had been something only to watch for me,” Yamasaki said.

As a well-known figure, Yamasaki’s decision drew much greater attention than she had anticipated and prompted much thought on her part, such as whether the public might question her seriousness. But she put such concerns to rest by winning the national middleweight championship in February 2012.

Yamasaki’s Olympic dream was dashed, however, when she lost to a German fighter in the third round at the women’s world boxing championships later in the year. She went to London and watched the semifinal bouts at the Olympics, concluding there was nothing she could have done to win any of them.

But Yamasaki continues to box. “I want to be stronger, as all boxers do, whether they are men or women,” she said.

Yamasaki runs for an hour every morning near her home in Tokyo, and practices at her boxing gym even late at night after working at a TV studio. She remains motivated partly because of Umetsu’s deteriorating health due to malignant skin cancer.

Umetsu feels delighted “whenever I win a bout,” Yamasaki said.

“I heard that joy and laughter improve (a person’s) immunizing power. I will do whatever I can, as much as I can, to help improve his condition.”

The age limit on boxers who compete in Olympic Games is expected to be raised to 40 from the current 34, making it possible for Yamasaki to bid for participation in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.