Japan’s Olympians had a different type of send-off party this year. Their preparation for the upcoming Olympics has also been different and the games will not be the same either.
Even amid all the changes to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, brought about by the coronavirus, there is one constant for freestyle wrestler Risako Kawai.
For Kawai, the gold medalist in the women’s 63-kg category at the 2016 Rio Games, the goal is — and always has been — to bring home another gold medal.
“I will be aiming for a gold medal,” Kawai said during an online news conference on Tuesday night. “That result will mean consecutive victories.”
The Olympic send-off parties are usually big, celebratory events. It was scaled down considerably this year, with only a very few in socially distanced attendance and the vast majority of athletes participating online as the specter of COVID-19 continues to hang overhead.
There will be reduced crowds and numerous other restrictions and measures in place at the Tokyo Games with the goal of reducing the spread of the virus. It will be about as scaled down as a global sporting event can be, and will likely provide unique challenges to the Olympians.
“It’s the first time for me to participate in this type of send-off party and there have been various first-time experiences as we move toward the Olympics,” Kawai said. “But I’m just part of the Japanese team and I want to play my role. I am going to do as I usually do and I think the most important thing is to be able to do my best.”
Kawai will be competing in a new weight class at the Tokyo Games, stepping down to 57 kg. She defeated Kaori Icho, the Rio gold medalist at the weight during the national championships in 2018.
She then secured her Tokyo 2020 berth — knocked Icho out of contention in the process — by reaching the finals in her weight class at the world championships. Kawai defeated China’s Rong Ningning to claim the world title.
Kawai’s preparations for the games were then thrown into chaos by the one-year postponement of the Olympics, announced in March 2020, and an inability to train as usual as COVID-19 infections swept across Japan.
“When it was postponed, I had a feeling of, ‘can I really do this,'” she said. “But thanks to my family and having my coach and my sister around me, I really felt like I wanted to do it.”
With that behind her, all that’s left is for Kawai to make sure she’s in peak condition when the Tokyo 2020 wrestling competition begins.
“I just have to do it,” Kawai said. “I have been practicing everyday and I have been able to make adjustments without having any serious injuries.”
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