For some athletes, the Olympics are a family affair, as siblings, cousins and even spouses chase a single dream. In the third of a new series about Olympic families, Tokyo 2020 take a look at Japan’s ABE Hifumi and Uta, siblings with their sights set on Olympic glory at this summer’s Games.
When Abe Hifumi and Uta became the first Japanese siblings to win at the same World Championships in Baku 2018, the expectation that they could repeat the feat at Tokyo 2020 began to rise. However, it wasn’t until last December that the siblings began to talk openly about the possibility of becoming Olympic champions.
Uta, the younger sister and reigning women’s -52kg world champion, was selected for the Tokyo 2020 team on 3 March 2020. But the All-Japan Judo Federation didn’t make a decision on Hifumi’s category, the men’s -66kg, until April 2020’s National Judo Championships.
The COVID-19 pandemic eventually led to that tournament’s cancellation, with the federation taking the decision to organise a single match between Hifumi and MARUYAMA Joshiro - then no. 3 and no. 2 in the world - with the winner earning a seat on the plane to Tokyo.
The bout, which was the first-ever single match Olympic qualifier in Japanese judo history, began on 13 December 2020. With so much at stake, four minutes of regulation time wasn’t enough to decide who was going to the Olympics. Only after 20 minutes of Golden Score was Hifumi awarded a game-ending waza-ari.
Hifumi had become the 14th and final member of the Japanese national team.
After the bout, he said: “Now I can officially say I'm aiming for a gold medal with my sister at the Olympics. As her bigger brother, I can't afford to lose.”
Already a world champion, teenage judoka ABE Uta knows she will need to be mentally and emotionally strong if she is to give her best at the Olympic Games on home soil.
- Names: ABE Hifumi and Uta
- Relationship: Siblings
- Country: Japan
- Sport: Judo
In their own words
ABE Hifumi on Uta
Interview with Kyodo, after 2018 World Championship win.
My target, more than winning consecutive titles, was for us to win as brother and sister.
Once my younger sister won, I went into my final with even more resolve to win.
ABE Uta on Hifmi
Interview with Tokyo 2020.
I couldn’t have made it this far without my older brother.
It’s impossible to know if I would have even started learning judo without him.
We have to become No. 1 - together
Uta started judo at age five and she “fell in love with the sport from the first day”.
At 15, she became the youngest-ever winner on the IJF World Tour at the Dusseldorf Grand Prix and three years later, at the age of 18, she defeated compatriot SHISHIME Ai in the final to clinch her first world title at the 2018 Baku World Championships.
Hifumi, three years Uta's senior, started judo at the age of six after watching a match on TV. He also enjoyed success from an early age and at the 2014 Tokyo Grand Slam became the youngest-ever Grand Slam winner in men’s judo at age 17. After that, he won eight more Grand Slams and two worlds titles.
At the 2017 Tokyo Grand Slam, the siblings topped the podium for the first time at the same international tournament - Uta in the women’s -52kg and Hifumi in the men’s -66kg. Since then, they have continued the trend at the 2018 World Championships and 2020 Dusseldorf Grand Slam.
Now the siblings are looking forward to this summer’s Olympics on home soil.
In an interview with the Olympic Channel, Uta said: "To be able to compete in an Olympics in Tokyo is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I hope to show a performance that everyone can remember."
And as Hifumi expressed during a new year's message, their goal is to become Olympic champions as siblings.
Abe Uta said to Tokyo 2020: “25 July will be the day that my brother and I shine.”