by Simon Daish
History maker to world beater
Born Saturday 21st October 2000, Mima Ito has just entered the final year of her teens but has already become somewhat of a seasoned veteran on the international table tennis scene having represented her country on the biggest of stages for a good decade already.
Ito caught the eye young from a very young age, most notably with her run of record-breaking performances: the youngest player to win a match at the Japanese National Championships aged 10, Ito also became the youngest ITTF Junior Circuit event champion with victory at the 2011 Chinese Taipei Junior and Cadet Open. Named Breakthrough Star of the Year at the 2015 ITTF Star Awards, Ito also set a new record for becoming the youngest table tennis player to win an Olympic Games medal as she helped Japan to women’s team bronze at Rio 2016.
Now, Ito has developed into one of Japan and the world’s finest competitors with the trophy collection to support.
Fine tally, but still room for improvement
Notably, when it comes to Ito’s record in team competitions, the readings are also most impressive: in addition to her bronze medal finish at Rio 2016, Ito has reached the second step of the medal podium with Japan at the World Team Championships and Team World Cup twice at both events. Ito has also proven to be a valuable asset in doubles having won two golds at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals and, alongside Hina Hayata, emerging as runner up at the Liebherr 2019 World Championships.
On an individual note, Ito’s achievements are equally most impressive, either having already acquired seven women’s singles trophies on the ITTF World Tour and being the sole player from outside of China to secure such a title in 2019 with her victory in Linz. In 2019 alone, Ito claimed victory over the likes of Zhu Yuling, Ding Ning, Wang Manyu and Sun Yingsha!
However, if there’s one area Ito is fully to leave her mark on it’s the so-called big stage. A quarter-finalist at the 2015 World Championships and the same again at the 2016 Women’s World Cup, Ito hasn’t been able to surpass those results at either. Perhaps fate is beginning to shift in her favour after successfully taking home bronze at the Agricultural Bank of China 2019 World Tour Grand Finals last month.
Changing of the guard
Excitingly Ito is set to make her Olympic singles debut this year, and what better place to do so than in front of a passionate set of home fans at Tokyo 2020? It presents perhaps Japan’s best opportunity to land its first ever gold medal at the event – Ito has shown time and again that she can topple the very best and you can imagine the momentous scenes if she was to go all the way in the Japanese capital.
Regardless of whether she makes history or not in Tokyo, Ito’s long-term future is looking most promising and the big goal is clear for all the see. China is undoubtedly the nation to beat in the women’s game with all eight Olympic singles golds and the last 13 World Championships titles belonging to the nation. Having beaten the very best China has to offer, with the exception of Chen Meng, Ito is clearly the one player who provides the biggest threat to Chinese superiority.
Ito has more than enough skill and tenacity to see off anyone on her day and is always in contention for whatever trophy lies in front of her. There’s no denying that on potential alone she has a great opportunity to lead Japan right to the very top once again and could well develop into a dominant force in the years to come.
It’s still early days in the new decade but gazing into a crystal ball, one can only ask the question: who will be the player leading the pack over the next decade – could it be Mima Ito?