by Kabir Nagpal
Newly established world no.5 Harimoto and world no.11 Hirano, silver medallists in the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, are set to make their debuts on the grandest stage of sport on their home turf, with the likes of world no.3 Ito making her second appearance at the Olympic Games, after she secured the bronze medal for her national team in Rio 2016.
Ito and Ishikawa – set to play in her third consecutive Olympic Games – had previously confirmed their spots in the women’s singles as they were Japan’s top-ranked female athletes as on the latest January rankings. Hirano joins her compatriots for the team event – securing her place ahead of the likes of Hina Hayata and Hitomi Sato – both of whom have previously made impressive pairings with Mima Ito.
However, Hirano adds a wealth of podium experience alongside Ishikawa, having secured bronze at the Liebherr 2017 World Championships, after winning the Asian Championships in the same year. The selection suggests that they have favoured an an athlete who is reliable for both singles and doubles.
Meanwhile, for the men’s singles, Harimoto will be joined by Niwa and Mizutani… Niwa and two-time Olympic Games medallist Mizutani are set to make their third and fourth straight appearances respectively, giving this Japan side a modern look of “been there, done that”.
The choice of Mizutani for the team event was made easy because of his seven doubles titles as well as superior results. It is also the reasoning for the choice of pairing for the newly-added mixed doubles event at Tokyo.
Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito will take centre stage in the mixed doubles event, fresh from their engaging final at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals against Chinese pair Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen – which they lost 3-2, despite leading 2-0; their competitive nature makes them the most powerful pairing – and have rightly deserved their tickets to the Olympic Games.
Just how impressive will be the results this roster of champions brings for the Japanese?