RIO DE JANEIRO - Having become the first Japanese world champion, two-time Olympic silver medalist Yuki Ota is ready to bring home the first gold medal in fencing in what will be his fourth and final Summer Games.
The 30-year-old, who won his first Olympic medal in Beijing in 2008 in the men’s individual foil and another in team foil four years ago, took a year fter the London Games.
Without its star, the team struggled, however, and not even his return could help it secure a ticket for Rio.
The team failed to secure an automatic berth that comes with a top-four world ranking, and placed second in the Asia and Oceania region behind China earlier this year to miss the boat to Rio, a failure that left Ota in “total despair.”
The failure to qualify as a team, means Ota has just the individual gold to focus on.
“The Olympic gold medal is the only thing missing from my career. That is the only thing I want to set my sights on,” said Ota, who was active on the bid committee that brought the Olympics to Tokyo in 2020.
Ota’s victory in the final at the world championships in Moscow in July 2015 came after a 15-10 victory over Alexander Massialas, who is currently ranked world No. 1 in the world, one place above Ota.
The American will likely be the biggest obstacle between Ota and Olympic glory.
“It’s an Olympics in which I will fight for others. I’ll shoulder the emotions from my colleagues (who couldn’t make it with the team) and in that way we will fight together,” said Ota.
Kazuyasu Minobe became the first Japanese winner in the men’s epee at a World Cup event last November, overcoming world No. 1 Grumier Gauthier of France in the semifinals. The 29-year-old ranks ninth in the world as he aims for a good showing on his Olympic debut.
Kenta Tokunan will also appear for the first time in the men’s sabre. The 28-year-old, ranked 75th, attended the same high school in Fukui Prefecture, Takefu Commercial High School, with Minobe and also with two members of the women’s team, Nozomi Sato and Chika Aoki.
Aoki, 26, is ranked 111th in the world in sabre was runner-up at the Asian Games last year, while Sato, 30, is looking to make up for her first-round exit in London. She is ranked 46th in epee.
Shiho Nishioka in foil completes Japan’s six-member fencing delegation with the 27-year-old, ranked 60th, also appearing in her second Games after she was eliminated in the second round four years ago.