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Olympic medal hopeful Risako Kawai using lockdown to lock in mental fortitude

Kyodo

Olympic wrestling hopeful Risako Kawai says she has chosen to focus on what she can control rather than fussing over what she has been denied by isolation necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

With the outbreak affecting everyone's lives, including those of athletes, Kawai has been exercising her mind, taking in knowledge that will keep her brain sharp and make her a better wrestler.

"I can't do, but I can watch," she said, explaining how she has been spending time watching videos of her opponents, researching techniques and mentally rehearsing match scenarios.

The 25-year-old, who competes in the 57-kg weight class, says she has never spent so much time away from the sport.

Kawai has not been able to spar with her training partner since Shigakkan University, her alma mater and training base in the city of Obu, Aichi Prefecture, suspended all club activities in late March.

"All I do is take in one day at a time," she says.

Four years ago, Kawai wrestled in the 63-kg event to avoid having to go up against 10-time world champion and four-time Olympic women's wrestling champion Kaori Icho at 58 kg, and claimed the gold medal in her Olympic debut in Rio.

But for Tokyo 2020, Kawai made the bold move of stepping down a weight division and coming face-to-face with Icho in order to leave the pathway open for her sister to make it to the Olympics with her.

Risako is three years older than her sister Yukako, a 62-kg silver medalist at the 2018 world championships.

Within a six-month span from December 2018, Risako fought Icho four times. She secured her place at the Tokyo Games at last year's worlds along with Yukako, who finished third in the 62 kg and met the qualification standard set by the Japan Wrestling Federation.

At the Asian Wrestling Championships held in India in February, both Risako and Yukako clinched the continental title in their respective weights and made clear it is their wish to deliver a repeat performance at the Tokyo Olympics.

But a month after they put a bow on what was to be the final tune-up before the Olympics came the announcement that the games would be postponed for a year because of the global health emergency.

"There was a part of me that wasn't ready for the news," Risako said. "But I switched gears and decided to think that I've been given more personal time so that means more time to get better."

Kawai, who is staying fit by running and doing strength training, overcame one of Japan's greatest-ever Olympians in Icho. Now, her task is to beat each and every challenge the coronavirus pandemic puts in her path.

Luckily, her sister will be right there with her to help navigate the unexpectedly extended road to their home games.

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