Eyeing gold in Golden Week: Japanese sports stars on the Olympic Torch Relay route

Uchimura Kohei of Japan reacts after competing on the High Bar during the artistic gymnastics Friendship and Solidarity Competition at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium on 8 November 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images)
Uchimura Kohei of Japan reacts after competing on the High Bar during the artistic gymnastics Friendship and Solidarity Competition at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium on 8 November 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images)

Multiple karate gold medalist KIYUNA Ryo, seven-time Olympic medalist UCHIMURA Kohei and badminton stars HIROTA Sayaka and FUKUSHIMA Yuki are among the most famous Japanese sports stars from Okinawa, Kumamoto and Nagasaki – the three prefectures set to host the Olympic Torch Relay during Japan's 'Golden Week'.

The Olympic Torch Relay is now underway following the Grand Start ceremony in Fukushima and you can follow every step of its journey towards the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games in 2021 right here on Tokyo 2020 with our livestream.

This week is Golden Week in Japan - a traditional week-long public holiday - but how much do you know about the prefectures that will be visited during the holiday season?

Tokyo 2020 takes a look at some of the athletes from Okinawa, Kumamoto and Nagasaki who've graced the sporting world over the years as well as those who’s Olympic careers have just begun, as the world counts down the days until the start of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

2019 Getty Images

KIYUNA Ryo

Hometown: Okinawa

Sport: Karate

Claim to fame: Karate may be making its debut at this year's Olympics but Okinawa-native Kiyuna Ryo is far from a newcomer to the sport. With three World Championship titles to his name in the kata discipline, Kiyuna is expected to light up Tokyo 2020 in the same way he has the international karate scene in recent years.

One secret to his spectacular success may be found in his incredible work ethic that sees him train or compete every day of the year. In an interview with Olympic.org, the athlete revealingly explained: “I don’t take a day off, 365 days a year. “I do five to six hours each day, seven days a week, on technical practice... Then one to two hours, seven days a week, of physical training."

BARBARASCO, ITALY - MAY 22: Arashiro Yukiya of Japan and Team Europcar in action during the twelfth stage of the 2014 Giro d'Italia, a 42km Individual Time Trial stage between Barbarasco and Barolo in Italy.  (Photo by Harry Engels - Velo/Getty Images)
BARBARASCO, ITALY - MAY 22: Arashiro Yukiya of Japan and Team Europcar in action during the twelfth stage of the 2014 Giro d'Italia, a 42km Individual Time Trial stage between Barbarasco and Barolo in Italy. (Photo by Harry Engels - Velo/Getty Images)
2014 Getty Images

ARASHIRO Yukiya

Hometown: Okinawa

Sport: Cycling

Claim to fame: Another famous child of Okinawa is cyclist Arashiro Yukiya, a 36-year-old member of the Team Bahrain Victorious road cycling team and 2005 Japanese Road Race Champion.

Arashiro is no stranger to the Olympic stage, having competed at both London 2012 and Rio 2016, finishing 48th and 27th respectively in the road race competitions. He will be looking to make his mark on a home Olympic Games, when the cycling competition begins in Tokyo this summer.

FUKUOKA, JAPAN - APRIL 05: Inoue Kosei  (L) and Yamashita Yasuhiro  look on during the day two of the All Japan Judo Championships by Weight Category 2015 at Fukuoka Kokusai Center in Fukuoka, Japan.  (Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images)
FUKUOKA, JAPAN - APRIL 05: Inoue Kosei (L) and Yamashita Yasuhiro look on during the day two of the All Japan Judo Championships by Weight Category 2015 at Fukuoka Kokusai Center in Fukuoka, Japan. (Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images)
2015 Getty Images

YAMASHITA Yasuhiro

Hometown: Kumamoto

Sport: Judo

Claim to fame: Not only is Yamashita Yasuhiro an Olympic gold medallist - he triumphed in spectacular fashion at the Los Angeles 1984 Games - he is also someone Tokyo 2020 can call one of their very own. Currently a member of the Japanese Olympic Committee and Vice-President of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Yamashita is heavily involved in the planning of the Olympics that will take place in July and August 2021.

He brings with him an immense amount of sporting experience, including five international gold medals (one Olympics and four World Championships), and a record of 203 wins in a row before his retirement in 1985 at just 28 years of age.

KANAKURI Shizo

Hometown: Kumamoto

Sport: Marathon

Claim to fame: Nicknamed Japan's 'father of the marathon', Kanazuri Shizo was one of the earliest long-distance running pioneers the country of Japan produced. Born in Kumamoto in 1891, Kanazuri is most famous for disappearing during the Stockholm 1912 Olympic marathon event and not resurfacing - at least in the eyes of the Swedish authorities - for another 50 years. In 1967, he finally returned to Sweden to complete his marathon, finishing in a time of 54 years, 8 months and 6 days.

Despite people in Sweden thinking Kanakuri was missing, he had in fact returned home and continued to compete, including at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp and the Paris 1924 Games. He lived a long and fruitful life back in Japan, dying at age 92 in November of 1983.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MARCH 20: Hirota Sayaka and Fukushima Yuki of Japan return a shot during their Women's Doubles Semifinal match against Cheryl Seinen and Selena Piek of the Netherlands at the YONEX All England Open Badminton Championships at Utilita Arena Birmingham on 20 March 2021 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MARCH 20: Hirota Sayaka and Fukushima Yuki of Japan return a shot during their Women's Doubles Semifinal match against Cheryl Seinen and Selena Piek of the Netherlands at the YONEX All England Open Badminton Championships at Utilita Arena Birmingham on 20 March 2021 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
2021 Getty Images

HIROTA Sayaka & FUKUSHIMA Yuki

Hometown: Kumamoto

Sport: Badminton

Claim to fame: Japanese women's doubles pair Hirota Sayaka and Fukushima Yuki will be gunning for gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, having won three silver medals at the Badminton World Federation World Championships. But in order to triumph at their home Olympics, the pair will most likely need to get past the challenge of world champions Matsumoto Mayu and Nagahara Wakana - who also happen to hail from Japan.

Fukushima is well aware of the challenge that lies ahead of them, stating: "To win a gold medal we have to get past them somehow." But with glory at a home Olympics at stake, the Olympic title may well be decided by who handles the pressure better on the day.

TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 08: Uchimura Kohei Uchimura of Japan reacts after competing on the High Bar during the artistic gymnastics Friendship and Solidarity Competition at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium on 8 November 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 08: Uchimura Kohei Uchimura of Japan reacts after competing on the High Bar during the artistic gymnastics Friendship and Solidarity Competition at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium on 8 November 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Toru Hanai/Getty Images)
2020 Getty Images

UCHIMURA Kohei

Hometown: Nagasaki

Sport: Artistic Gymnastics

Claim to fame: Three Olympic golds, four Olympic silvers, 10 World Championships golds and a total of 32 medals in international competitions, Nagasaki-native Uchimura Kohei is a legend of artistic gymnastics. Considered by many to be the greatest gymnast to have ever lived, 'King Kohei', as he is affectionately known, will be one of the brightest stars to watch out for at Tokyo 2020.

After dealing with three years of injury, he will focus on the horizontal bars in Tokyo, saying: "Since I’ve stuck to the bar, strangely enough, there’s been no pain in my shoulders and I can put in the practice I want to. It’s going pretty well so far".

Tokyo may well be a spectacular swansong for one of the most recognisable athletes in the world.