2021 Masters champion MATSUYAMA Hideki, baseball star FUJIKAWA Kyuji and fencing hot-shot UENO Yuka are among the most famous Japanese sports stars from Kochi, Ehime and Oita – the three prefectures set to host the Olympic Torch Relay this 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.
But how much do you know about the Japanese sports stars who are from the prefectures that will be visited this week? Every Monday, Tokyo 2020 will highlight some of those who have graced the sporting world over the years as well as those who’s sporting careers have just begun, as the world counts down the days until the start of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
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Claim to fame: One of the stars of Japanese baseball, Fujikawa pitched for the Tigers in the NPB as well as with the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers in the MLB during a distinguished 22-year career.
He represented Japan at Beijing 2008 but won’t take to the ballpark at the Olympic Games this summer having announced his retirement from the sport last year.
Ahead of his last appearance, he told his teammates: “I’m able to quit with a sense of satisfaction. I have no regrets.”
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Claim to fame: Matsuyama became an instant star at home and hit headlines around the world earlier this month after becoming the first Japanese golfer to win a men’s major – the Masters in Augusta.
The 29-year-old, already a six-time winner on the PGA Tour, is almost certain to feature at the Olympic Games in 2021 along with his caddie HAYAFUJI Shota, who became an internet sensation after taking time to bow respectfully to the course amid the celebrations.
“It's thrilling to think that there are a lot of youngsters in Japan watching today,” Matsuyama told a packed news conference after his victory. “Hopefully in five, 10 years, when they get a little older, hopefully some of them will be competing on the world stage.”
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Claim to fame: If anyone needs any inspiration ahead of the Games this summer, look no further than Taguchi Nobutaka, the double Olympic medallist and six-time Asian Games champion who won Japan’s first swimming gold medal in over 15 years at the 1972 Games in Munich.
Taguchi won bronze in the 200m breaststroke but it was his scintillating performances in the 100m breaststroke where he would make his name: first by breaking the world record in the semi-final before breaking his own record in the final to clinch gold. His achievement was even more remarkable given the era was dominated by formidable duo of John Hencken and David Wilkie – regarded as two of the greatest breaststrokers of all-time.
Tachuhi competed at three Games: Mexico 1968, Munich 1972 and Montreal 1976, before he was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1987.
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Claim to fame: Is it a case of being so close but yet so far for Watanabe? The swimming sensation first burst on to the international scene at Rio 2016 with a world record swim in the 200m breaststroke semi-final before finishing sixth in the final.
The following year, Watanabe became the first man to swim sub 2:07 in the 200m breaststroke (with a world record time of 2:06.67) and went on to win the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships before finishing second at the Asian Games later in the same year.
Hopes and expectations were high for Watanabe to qualify for Tokyo 2020 at the Japanese Olympic trials in April, but he surprisingly fell agonisingly short and now only time will tell whether he will be selected for the Relay team this summer.
"The time was nothing short of disappointing", Watanabe said in tears after the race. “I can’t make out what occurred. The pain I’m feeling hurts far more than I ever imagined. For months, I’ve been preparing for this meet. I trained harder than I ever have in my entire life."
Claim to fame: Ueno is among a new generation of Japanese talent to follow at Tokyo 2020.
The 19-year-old fencer followed-up her gold medal in the foil event at the 2018 Youth Olympics with a silver in the mixed team event before winning silver (foil) and gold (team) at the Asian Fencing Championship in 2019.
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SO Shigeru and SO Takeshi
Claim to fame: The So brothers have both represented Japan in the marathon and have even raced against each other on the greatest stage of them all.
Shigeru represented Japan at two Olympic Games – Montreal 1976 and Los Angeles 1984, and won several meets including the Tokyo and Beijing marathons in 1985, while his brother Takeshi won the Košice (1976) and Otsu (1978) marathons and famously competed against Shigeru at Los Angeles 1984, where he finished fourth (12 places ahead of his brother).
Takeshi, who also came second in the Tokyo marathon in 1983, coached SASAKI Satoru ahead of Rio 2016 and is currently the director of men's marathoning at the JAAF.