With this year’s Olympics taking place in their home nation, Japan’s sporting stars are looking to become national heroes at Tokyo 2020. After finishing sixth in the medal table at Rio 2016, the hosts are reportedly aiming for a top-five finish this time round. Who are Japan’s most promising medal hopes and which Japanese athletes are worth keeping an eye on at Tokyo 2020?
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Can Naomi Osaka become an Olympic champion?
World number two Naomi Osaka is broadly considered to be one of the favourites to win gold in the Women’s singles tennis competition. The 23-year-old has thus far endured a mixed 2021, winning the Australian Open before withdrawing from the French Open amidst her controversial decision not to participate in press conferences, and also sitting out Wimbledon in order to focus on her Tokyo 2020 preparations.
The two-time Grand Slam champion is arguably the most recognisable athlete representing Japan at the Games and thus she will serve as one of the hosts’ primary gold medal hopes. However, with a competitive field including the likes of Ashleigh Barty and Aryna Sabalenka expected to compete and an absence of spectators reducing the impact of her home advantage, Osaka will still be required to produce top performances in order to earn a spot on the podium.
Will Japan win baseball gold?
Baseball is making its first appearance at the Olympics since Beijing 2008 and Pinnacle’s betting market indicates that Japan’s home advantage could prove pivotal in securing their first-ever gold medal in the event. They are 2.220* favourites to win the event ahead of the US (4.120*) and South Korea (6.090*), and can lean on encouraging recent form entering the tournament.
Indeed, Japan currently lead the WBSC World Rankings, have dominated the Asian Baseball Championship since the turn of the century, and have also never failed to reach at least the semi-finals of an Olympics baseball tournament. With baseball also presently the most popular spectator sport in the country, there will be firm motivation for the hosts to try and land baseball gold.
Kawai defends her wrestling title
Wrestling has proved to be an abundant source of medals for Japan at recent Olympics, with four of their 12 gold medals earned at Rio 2016 coming in the sport.
Risako Kawai will be aiming to collect another wrestling medal at Tokyo 2020.
Among these was Risako Kawai, who topped the podium in the Woman’s 63kg freestyle event courtesy of a dominant 3-0 victory over Belarus’ Maria Mamashuk in the final. Since then, the 26-year-old has added three World Championship and three Asian Championship titles to her trophy cabinet, and she is unsurprisingly favoured to get her hands on another Olympic medal on home soil.
Kawai is currently priced as the 1.833* favourite to win the Women’s 57kg freestyle event at Tokyo 2020, ahead of Rong Ningning (2.650*), Iryna Kurachkina, and Odunayo Adekuoroye (both 5.300*). Her recent gold medal at the 2020 Asian Championships offered a firm reminder of how formidable Kawai can be when she is enjoying top form.
Plenty of swimming medal hopes
Japan look set to boast a strong swimming team at Tokyo 2020 featuring a selection of notable medal hopes. These include Kosuke Hagino, who will be aiming to add to the four medals he collected at London 2012 and Rio 2016, and is among the names to look out for in the Men’s individual medley and 200m freestyle events.
He will face Japanese competition for the latter in the form of Katsuhiro Matsumoto. The 24-year-old earned silver in the event at both the 2018 Asian Games and 2019 World Championships and is available at 5.880* with Pinnacle to take gold in Tokyo.
Elsewhere, Yui Ohashi is considered to be among the frontrunners in both the Women's 200m and 400m individual medleys, and is available at 4.460* and 3.810* to top the podium in them respectively. The Hikone-born swimmer won both events at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships, and possesses reasons to be confident about earning her first-ever Olympic medal.
Momota aims for badminton glory
Kento Momota will be hoping to justify his favourite tag as he seeks to become Japan's first-ever Men's singles badminton Olympic champion. The 26-year-old will enter the event as the world number one and leads the betting market with Pinnacle to earn gold at 2.290*.
While he has faced injury issues this year, his recent record is still intimidating and formidable in equal measure and most notably includes a Guinness World Record-breaking 11 titles won during the 2019 season. Japan have only ever won three badminton medals at the Olympics and they will be eagerly hoping that Momota can add to that total this year.
Will the ‘Queen of Kata’ earn a medal?
One of the most notable karate stars competing at the Nippon Budokan will be the ‘Queen of Kata’ Kiyo Shimizu, who will be definitely aiming to top the podium. Since 2014, she has won three Asian Championships, two Asian Games, and two World Championship titles in the event and is available at 2.090* to add an Olympic gold medal to her haul.
Despite her impressive CV, Shimizu will face fierce competition from Spain’s Sandra Sanchez, who narrowly edges her in the betting market at 1.671* and has dominated the European stage in the event. If Shimizu comes out on top in the contest between the pair, an Olympic gold medal will likely be her reward.
How many medals will Japan win at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?
Japan collected 41 medals including 12 golds at Rio 2016 to finish sixth in the medal table, and are reportedly eyeing a minimum of a top-five finish in Tokyo. At the last five Olympics, the nation finishing fifth in the medal table has averaged 15 golds and 41.2 medals overall.
There will be 339 events at Tokyo – a sizeable jump from the 306 at Rio – as well as the return and arrival of new events Japan are expected to perform well in, including baseball, softball, and skateboarding. Japan are set at 27.5 gold medals in Pinnacle’s medal markets and are priced at 2.220* to get over 27.5 and 1.617* for under.
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