NARITA, CHIBA PREF. – Hifumi Abe said Thursday he hopes to take a first step toward a coveted Olympic gold as he looks to shake off not being selected for the Rio Olympics by becoming the 66-kg world judo champion.
Speaking to reporters at Narita airport before heading to Budapest for the World Judo Championships, which is scheduled to start on Monday, the 20-year-old Nippon Sport Science University student appeared optimistic about his world championship debut.
Abe, whose sister Uta is also a judoka, has every reason to feel confident, coming off victories at the Grand Slam Tokyo in December 2016, Grand Slam Paris in February this year and the national invitational weight class championships in April.
“My final goal is to win a gold medal at the (2020) Tokyo Olympics. I hope these world championships will be the first step (toward achieving my goal),” Abe said.
Also departing with Abe were Rio bronze medalist and 24-year-old Naohisa Takato, who will be bidding for his first gold in the 60-kg division since the 2013 worlds, and a 21-year-old rival in that weight division, Ryuju Nagayama.
“I’m no longer considered one of the younger talents but I have to prove I’m still No. 1,” said Takato.
“I want to face Mr. Takato in the final, put on a great fight and win,” said Nagayama, using the Japanese honorific to refer to someone who preceded him at the same university.
Kosei Inoue, the head coach of Japan’s men’s judo squad, said the worlds will be a proving ground ahead of the Tokyo Olympics after the national team brought home a record 12 medals from Rio de Janeiro last summer.
Seven of the 12 medals in Rio, including two gold, were won by men.
“This is going to be the first big event after the Rio Olympics. I hope we bring up our level each year starting with 2018, then 2019, then 2020,” Inoue said.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5