Watanabe Watanabe: High hopes in SEA Games judo competition.

PJF pins hopes on Fil-Japanese Olympian Watanabe in SEA Games

March 2, 2022 Ed Andaya 580 views

AN exciting four-way battle looms in the judo competitions in the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi, Vietnam on May 12-23.

And the Filipino judokas — bless their hearts – are not backing down from any challenge.

Ask Philippine Judo Federation secretary-general David Carter.

“Despite limited training and all the restrictions we are facing due to the pandemic, the national judo team is looking forward to the coming SEA Games in Hanoi,” said Carter an interview with “Sports On Air” via Zoom last Feb. 25.

“Thailand, the overall champion in the 2019 SEA Games in Manila, is there. Indonesia is there. And of course, host Vietnam. It’s hard, but we’re looking at bringing home two to three gold medals,” added Carter.

“Sa Hanoi, sila din ang makakalaban natin for the gold medals.”

Filipino-Japanese superstar Kiyomi Watanabe will be one of the few Filipino judokas with real chances of winning the gold.

Watanabe, a four-time SEA Games gold medalist who also served as flag-bearer for the Philippines in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, is expected to dominate in her weight category.

The 24-year-old daughter of a Japanese father and Filipino mother from Cebu, who made history by becoming the first female judo athlete from the Philippines to ever compete at the Olympics, is currently deep in training in Japan.

“Tuloy-tuloy pa rin ang training ni Kiyomi, pati na ang Nakano brothers, Shugen at Keise. Yun ang kagandahan na yun mga atleta natin ay nasa lugar na medyo lighter ang restrictions kumpara sa atin,” explained Carter, who also spoke on behalf of newly-elected PJF president Ali Sulit.

“Dun kapag nagkaroon lang ng infection or probably merong suspected case sa nilalaruang area o dojo nila, saka lang sila mag-lockdown. At yung lockdown na yun, a week or 10 days at the most lang. So walang problema ang training.”

Carter, also a member of the board of directors of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), said a total of 17 judokas are included in the national team.

“We were blessed by the POC with 17 slots. But that’s because maganda yung naging medal haul natin sa nakaraang SEA Games dito sa Manila. Dun naman madalas naka-base yun, athough we have 13 events this coming SEA Games in Hanoi, If I’m not mistaken.”

Asked about the venue of the training bubble of the national judo team, Carter said the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), thru national training director Marc Velasco, is looking at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila.

“Maayos naman lahat. Yun venue, newly-renovated. Even the equipment that we used during the 2019 SEA Games, nandun. Yun ilang nire-reklamo dati ng mga atleta at coaches na butas sa sahig, naayos na ng PSC,” explained Carter.

“But we might not have enough spaces anymore sa dating dorm, so yun iba will have to be housed somewhere. But atleast half of our athletes will be there sa dating dojo sa third floor ng PCSM Bldg. “

Another problem facing judo and most combat sports is the lack of sparring partners for their national team members.

“One of our problems right now is lack of sparring partners. Gaya din sa wushu at kurash. Nag-usap na kami ni Rolan of kurash para maging sparring partners yun mga atleta namin. Wala naman problema sa amin as long as we are not violating any rules. Sabi nga, magka-hawig naman talaga ang judo at kurash. Pero ang problema talaga, very limited yun dormitories to accomodate our athletes.”

Carter, however, ruled out holding anymore qualifying events for the members of the national team due to time constraints.

“Right now, malabo talaga na magkakaroon pa ng qualifying event dahil very tight na ang ating oras, lalo na inaayos pa yun bubble set-up. So we decided to stick with the current members of the national team. Pipiliin na lang yung ipadadala sa Hanoi.”

“But in case any of the local coaches or clubs magsasabi na they want to challenge kung sino man ang gusto sana nating ipadala sa SEA Games, welcome sa amin. Hindi natin hahadlangan yun mga pananaw ng mga coaches na mula sa clubs,” said Carter.

“Pero kailangan sabihin kaagad kung merong gustong ipantapat laban dun sa current holder of slot sa national team. Dapat pasok pa din sa deadline for accreditations.What is the good of allowing those challenges kung a month na lang before the SEA Games. Hindi na rin makakakuha ng accreditation.”

“So what we will do is to let them play against our national team members. Best-of-three matches. Kung sino manalo, yun ang ipadala natin sa SEA Games.”

Judo was one of the hotly-contested combat sports during the 2019 SEA Games in Manila.

Thailand captured seven golds, two silvers and two bronzes to emerge as the overall champion.

Indonesia finished runner-up with four golds, two silvers and two bronzes and host Philippines wound up third with three golds, one silver and nine bronzes.

Vietnam, the 2022 host, was fourth with two golds, four silvers and four bronzes.

Carter is one five officials of leading combat sport associations who graced the weekly sports forum and discussed the coming SEA Games.

The other four officials are Wrestling Association of the Philippines president Alvin Aguilar and Kurash Sports Federation of the Philippines head Rolan Llamas last Feb. 18; and Wushu Federation of the Philippines president Freddie Jalasco and Samahang Kickboxing ng Pilipinas secretary-general Wharton Chan last Feb. 25. with reports from Gab Ferreras