By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter
JUDOKA Kiyomi Watanabe and sprinter Kristina Knott and their teams expect a tough challenge in the Tokyo Olympics but they are forging ahead, looking to take it one step at a time.
Earned qualification on the same date on June 23, Misses Watanabe and Knott are part of the 19-athlete squad representing the Philippines in the rescheduled Olympics happening from July 23 to Aug. 8.
Filipino-Japanese Watanabe qualified by way of the continental quota in the women’s -63kg class as released by the International Judo Federation while Filipino-American Knott received a universality place in the women’s 200m from World Athletics.
Both are making their Olympic debuts in Tokyo.
Japan-based Watanabe is set to face top-class opponents from Asia and Europe, said the Philippine Judo Federation (PJF), which expressed confidence nonetheless that the national bet will be in the mix for a medal, even gold.
“Anything is possible with her (Watanabe). We cannot underestimate her abilities as an athlete. She’s a true warrior, who has the power and the heart to compete,” said Dave Carter, PJF president, in his recent session on the online Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum.
Mr. Carter said European athletes, in particular, present a tough challenge for Ms. Watanabe but if she manages to stay the course and reach the championship rounds she can be a handful.
“Frequent titleholder France is there and there are the Slovenians and Germans. Kiyomi should watch out for them,” the PJF official said.
“Based on our calculations, Kiyomi needs to win at least five to six matches to make it to the gold medal round. But three wins in the pool play would assure her of making it to the quarterfinals. If she reaches the quarterfinals, she has a strong chance,” Mr. Carter added.
Ms. Watanabe, 24, is based in Japan and currently in deep training with her coach, former Asian Games gold medalist Yazaki Yuta. She is the first Filipina judoka to make it to the Olympics, and the third straight Philippine bet in judo to see action in the quadrennial meet after Tomohiko Hoshina and Kodo Nakano in the 2012 London and 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games, respectively.
Ms. Watanabe is currently the 39th-ranked player in the world and won silver in the 2018 Asian Games and a four-time Southeast Asian Games gold medalist. She was recently named one of the flag-bearers for the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics, along with pole-vaulter EJ Obiena.
The Philippine judoka begins her bid on July 27.
Meanwhile, Ms. Knott has her sights on the gold medal in the Olympics but is not getting ahead of herself.
“Anything is possible. [But] The goal is to make it to each round,” said the 2019 Southeast Asian Games double gold medalist in a recent television interview.
She went on to say that in the Olympics, the best of the best come together, making the road to glory very narrow. But she is only motivated by it.
“A motivation for me is to run well in the Olympics. This is an opportunity for me to put the greatest flag on my chest, to show out and not just represent,” said Ms. Knott, who is also out to break her own national and SEA Games record of 23.01 seconds in her push to vie for a spot in the finals of her Olympic event.
The Olympic track and field events will take place from July 30 to Aug. 8.