Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito made history on Monday as the mixed doubles pair produced an epic comeback to give Japan its first-ever table tennis Olympic gold medal.
Mizutani 32, and Ito, 20, stunned Chinese world champions Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen 4-3, having trailed by two games in the nerve-jangling seven-game final at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
They won 5-11, 7-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-9, 6-11, 11-6, becoming the first champions of the mixed doubles event, which was added to the table tennis program for these Games.
“China has beaten us so many times at the Olympics and at the World Championships. I think we were able to avenge all those losses here at the Tokyo Games. I’m really happy,” Mizutani said.
Added Ito, “I’m really really really happy. We were able to enjoy ourselves up to the very end because everyone, including our team staff, cheered us on.”
Xu and Liu wasted little time in stamping their authority, racing out to a big lead by taking the first two games.
But the Japanese pair, who had come back from the dead in the quarterfinals, refused to wilt and a forehand smash from Ito pulled a game back before Mizutani made it 2-2, later putting the hosts in front with a well-placed backhand.
Xu and Liu tied the match but the Japanese won the first eight points of the decider and Mizutani and Ito held their nerve to clinch victory.
“We were on the back foot when we were down 0-4 in the third game, but we were able to take back that game and from there, the momentum shifted in our direction,” Mizutani said.
In other action involving players from the host nation, Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto made the perfect start to his Olympic debut. The 18-year-old overpowered Lam Siu Hang of Hong Kong in five games in the men’s singles.
Regarded as Japan’s brightest young talent, the third-seeded Harimoto secured his spot in the fourth round with a 4-1 win at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, while compatriot Kasumi Ishikawa also opened with a win to advance from the women’s draw.
Harimoto took a medical timeout to treat a cut on his right hand while trailing during the second game, but he recovered nicely to advance 11-9, 13-11, 8-11, 12-10, 12-10.
In an earlier match, Ishikawa was made to work before notching a 4-2 win over Thailand’s Orawan Paranang in the third round of the women’s singles.
Fifth seed Ishikawa, who helped Japan win the team bronze medal in Rio five years ago, allowed Paranang to twice come back to make it all square at two games apiece, but took control from the fifth game to prevail 11-5, 5-11, 11-4, 6-11, 11-4, 11-8.
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