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Boxer Katsunari Takayama fighting to realize Olympic dream

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Former four-organization world champion boxer Katsunari Takayama is trying to earn a chance to take a shot at another shiny reward.

Except this time, it’s not a belt. It’s an Olympic medal from the Tokyo Games.

But before he can step into the ring in pursuit of that goal, Takayama has to first become eligible to fight at the Summer Games, which are scheduled to be held in the Japanese capital in 2020.

The International Boxing Association (AIBA) began to allow professional boxers to compete in the Olympics at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016. The Japan Amateur Boxing Federation (JABF), however, does not permit boxers with professional experience to compete in the amateur ring.

Despite this, Takayama refuses to abandon his objective.

The 34-year-old collected about 250,000 signatures from supporters and submitted them on Wednesday to the Japan Olympic Committee and visited councillor Seiko Hashimoto, who competed in seven Olympics in speedskating and cycling, at the Members’ Office Building of the House of Councillors.

Later in the day, Takayama also visited the JABF Osaka office to turn in copies of the signatures and registration documents requesting amateur eligibility. But the office reportedly did not accept them, saying that JABF president Akira Yamane was absent.

“She told me, ‘I will keep supporting you,’ ” Takayama said of his conversation with Hashimoto, who serves as a JOC vice president, after their meeting in Tokyo. “I’ll do the best I can, and keep fighting for the sake of those who support me and those who love the sport.”

Takayama described the realistic chances of becoming eligible as “50-50.” Nevertheless, he said he’s already resumed his training in case he gets the green light.

“I have not been given guarantees on anything in the past anyway,” said Takayama, the only Japanese boxer in history to have captured the world title belts of the four major organizations (WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF). “But I’ll get myself ready in case I’m given the stage I can fight on. My supporters are doing their best for me so I’ll only focus on doing my best no matter what.”

Takayama’s first world title was from the WBC, which he won in 2005. Takayama, who was 31-8 with 12 knockouts as a minimumweight fighter, retired from professional boxing last year.

When asked why he set the Olympics as his goal, Takayama hinted he wouldn’t have if the games hadn’t been on home soil.

“I wanted to compete against the best athletes on the best stage,” said Takayama, who enrolled at Nagoya Sangyo University last year and has majored in modern business, of the Olympics. “It’s said the Olympics is where the best athletes of each country are supposed to assemble. But I’ve never said I should represent the country once I gain eligibility. Once I complete my registration as an amateur, I want to compete at the domestic qualifiers and win a spot.”

Meanwhile, Takayama does not necessarily expect his transition to amateur boxing to go smoothly. In fact, he’s said he’s already gone through “trials and errors” during his training.

The Osaka native emphasized that fighters box for up to nine minutes in three rounds in amateur competition while a bout could be as long as 36 minutes over 12 rounds in the professional ranks, which makes a big difference.

“It is like the difference between you being a marathon runner and you being a sprinter in athletics,” Takayama said. “It is a challenge akin to a marathon runner trying to become a sprinter. But I would like to train myself as hard as I can and be ready for the 2020 Olympics.”