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If you believe Olympic analyst Gracenote Sports, Japan is set to outperform all of its previous medal-winning efforts at the upcoming Tokyo Games, although the impact of the pandemic on the sporting calendar has made picking winners a tougher task than usual.

It’s fair to assume that Japan will see its share of success in the pool. The national squad unveiled Sunday features a number of fresh faces, but there are also veterans who have already achieved global success, such as Daiya Seto, Kosuke Hagino and Ryosuke Irie, reports Kaz Nagatsuka.

Of course, leukemia survivor Rikako Ikee is also in the squad. She completed a clean sweep of four wins at Japan’s Olympic swimming trials on Saturday, but missed out on an individual place at the games. But as Nagatsuka notes, this really is just the beginning of Ikee’s epic comeback story, so stay tuned.

Rikako Ikee prepares to compete in the women's 50m freestyle final during the Japan National Swimming Championships in Tokyo on Saturday. | AFP-JIJI
Rikako Ikee prepares to compete in the women’s 50m freestyle final during the Japan National Swimming Championships in Tokyo on Saturday. | AFP-JIJI

Hagino, meanwhile, will be making his third trip to the Olympics, but he’ll be a different swimmer in Tokyo than he was in either London or Rio de Janeiro. While in the past he entered a range of events, Michael Phelps-style, he is now concentrating on what he’s best at, writes Nagatsuka.

Turning to athletics, sprinter Ryota Yamagata says he’s aiming for an “extremely great year” in 2021 after recovering from a collapsed lung in 2019 and knee injuries last year. But given Japan’s current wealth of sprinting talent, he knows he’ll have to pull out all the stops to qualify for Tokyo 202o.

Kento Momota is also on the recovery track after the badminton world No. 1 fractured his nose and right eye socket, and sustained lacerations to his face, in a traffic accident in Malaysia last year. “I’ll just do the best I can and not listen to any other voices around me,” he tells Reuters. “I just want to go for that gold medal to grow the profile of badminton in my country.”

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