The whole of Tokyo will be hoping the 37th Japan Open Badminton Championships was a true forerunner for the Olympic Games next year, as Japanese athletes took both singles titles in front of an adoring home crowd. Local heroes Akane Yamaguchi and Nozomi Okuhara treated the fans to an entertaining all-Japanese women’s final – with Yamaguchi triumphing – before defending champion Kento Momota won the men’s title.
And with players from across the globe giving the venue their seal of approval, it was a perfect week for the Tokyo 2020 organisers.
A high-class field gathered in the Japanese capital from 23 to 28 July, all aiming to secure one of the 172 badminton quota spots for the Games. And from east to west, the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza received rave reviews from the sport’s finest.
“This is like a real hall for badminton. It’s easy to control, there’s not much wind,” the USA’s Beiwen Zhang told the Badminton World Federation (BWF). “It’s really good that we will play the Olympics here.”
Momota is another man who enjoys playing in Japan, and especially at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza. The 24-year-old ended his recent run of poor form and won in the arena for the second successive year.
“Winning under these conditions is something different from last year,” Momota told the BWF. “After my loss in Indonesia (in the second round of the Indonesia Open earlier this month), I came with the mindset to win in Japan. I haven’t done well at other tournaments, but I was determined not to lose here at my home event.”
Momota is currently third in the men’s singles BWF World Rankings list, which will be used to decide all quota places for Olympic qualification by next April. The race to secure these spots is already intense, with Malaysian mixed doubles pair Goh Soon Huat and Shevon Jemie Lai unable to think of much else.
“The Olympics is more than a competition to me. This is the dream of every player,” Goh told the BWF.
He and his partner are currently eighth in the global standings but, with only two quota places available per National Olympic Committee, their Tokyo 2020 spot is not secure. Compatriots Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying, the Rio 2016 Olympic Games silver medallists, are top of the standings and fellow Malaysians Tan Kian Meng and Lai Pei Jing are just behind them in ninth.
The venue to which they are all hoping to return has thrived since opening in November 2017. It boasts a 10,000-seat main arena, while its pool, gym, multi-sport arena and two fitness studios are all open to the public.
“With Japan’s fantastic pedigree in the sport, and recent successes, the atmosphere at the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza will be amazing,” said BWF President Poul-Erik Hoyer.
“We are lucky there have been two test events at the Olympic venue – both last year and the official test event this week at the Japan Open – and we are very satisfied the venue will stage a wonderful tournament.”