Shooting stars: Olympic hopefuls target top spot as final Tokyo 2020 test event gets underway

Saitama plays host to the last READY STEADY TOKYO event before the Olympic Games in July 2021.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

The READY STEADY TOKYO shooting test event is underway at the Asaka Shooting Range, bringing back fond memories of the Olympic shooting competition that took place in the same venue at Tokyo 1964.

With over 160 Japanese shooters competing, the five-day event, which runs until 21 May, is the perfect opportunity for organisers to test operations in the temporary facility in Saitama.

On Tuesday (18 May), athletes competed in four events, including the 10m air rifle mixed team and 10m air pistol mixed team, both of which have been included on the Olympic programme for the first time at Tokyo 2020.

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Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Surprise win in 10m air pistol mixed team event

As a thrilling contest began to take shape, the final of the 10m air pistol mixed team event had people at the venue on the edge of their seats.

YAMADA Satoko and MORIKAWA Seiji entered the final as favourites, having last month been included in the still-to-be ratified Olympic lineup by the National Rifle Association of Japan.

However, a surprise was on the cards as ORITANI Miki and SONODA Yoshinobu scored 16 in the gold-medal match to finish ahead of the duo. Oritani’s score of 10.8 from a single shot received loud applause from both organisers and the media.

Though they fell short of victory, both Yamada and Morikawa saw the test event as good experience ahead of Tokyo 2020, with Morikawa stating: “The brightness and the color of the lighting (inside the venue) make me feel good and it's easy to concentrate.”

Yamada, who secured an Olympic quota for Japan in 2019, was thrilled to be competing, having had no opportunities to take part in international events for over a year. “Though all the participants are Japanese, I got the feeling of competing internationally. It’s a good practice,” she said.

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Picture by 2021 Getty Images

OKADA and NAKAGUCHI shine in the 10m air rifle

In the 10m air rifle mixed team event, winning pair OKADA Naoya and NAKAGUCHI Haruka displayed outstanding skill to score above 10 with the majority of their shots in the final.

Okada, who competed at Rio 2016, is expected to continue chasing his Olympic dream this summer when he competes on home soil at Tokyo 2020.

“I felt happy to compete in the mixed team this time because it’s not an event frequently seen in domestic tournaments,” he said during an interview after the event. 

23-year-old Nakaguchi, who will make her Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, said that finding her rhythm would be essential to her success this summer.

“To make it to the final, we have to shoot 30 and 20 shots in the qualification rounds, when the time is limited. In order to manage this, I need to find a rhythm,” she explained. “In the final, I learned how important it is to focus on my own performance.”

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Picture by 2021 Toru Hanai

Love is in the air

Even though the weather was drizzly and windy in Saitama, one scene that followed the trap event was enough to warm people's hearts.

Shortly after the men's trap victory ceremony, winner OYAMA Shigetaka stepped onto the podium with his wife NAKAYAMA Yukie. They displayed their wedding rings to the crowd with big smiles on their faces.

The couple will be two of Japan's biggest shooting medal hopes at the Games, with Nakayama - a four-time trap Olympian who will compete at her fifth Games and Oyama, pairing up in the trap mixed team event.

Oyama, whose last international event was almost a year and a half ago, saw the test as an opportunity to gain vital competiton experience before the Games.

“My last international event was the Qatar Asian Shooting Championship which was held in 2019. I was concerned about my performance and my ability to compete under pressure,” he said. “Although I hoped for a higher score for the qualification, considering the weather today… I think it was a good match.”

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