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Japan softball manager Utsugi targets Olympic gold in 2020

Kyodo

New Japan national women’s softball team skipper Reika Utsugi said Monday she will put everything she has experienced as a player and in coaching capacities at stake to fight for the gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“I feel the weight of responsibility and size of mission,” Utsugi, who was formally appointed Sunday as skipper of the squad for the Tokyo Games, told a press conference in Tokyo. “I want to give my all. I strongly believe we will win the gold medal.”

Utsugi expressed her expectations for longtime Japan ace Yukiko Ueno, a 34-year-old pitcher who played a central role in Japan’s gold medal finish at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, saying that a “merging of veterans who have experienced the big stage and young players is essential” for the team.

Softball will make a comeback to the Olympic program in 2020 for the first time since the Beijing Games.

Utsugi, 53, who hails from China but played for Japan after becoming a naturalized citizen in 1995, helped the Japanese team win the silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and bronze at the 2004 Athens Summer Games.

She managed the national team from 2011 to 2015, leading the squad to back-to-back world titles. Utsugi also manages Bic Camera Takasaki, a powerhouse in the women’s first division of the Japan Softball League.

“She is a top-class player in the world,” Utsugi said of Ueno, who plays for Bic Camera. “I want to fight alongside her and train young players in her presence. I want her, as the ace, (to reenact) the excitement of Beijing once again in Tokyo.”