Kiyomi Watanabe won’t get the chance to win a fifth gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games after host Cambodia scrapped the Filipino-Japanese bet’s -63 kg division, the Philippine Judo Federation said yesterday.
The 26-year-old Watanabe was the SEA Games champion from 2013 until 2019 and Phnom Penh’s decision not to include her weight class leaves her with no choice but to stay behind, PJF secretary general Dave Carter stressed.
Watanabe was a cinch to win her fifth last year but she suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury in the runup to the Hanoi SEA Games.
“Kiyomi’s weight category won’t be played in the SEA Games this year,” Carter lamented, adding that it wasn’t just the Philippines that was affected by the host’s prerogative.
“The other federations are also frustrated about this,” he said.
Watanabe’s event wasn’t the only one removed, Carter bared.
“Cambodia even removed the -81 kg men’s because Cambodia knows Indonesia is strong in that event.”
With its exclusion from the program, Watanabe will join Olympic champion Hidilyn Diaz of weightlifting on the list of elite Filipino athletes who have decided to skip the 2023 SEA Games.
Now that Watanabe can no longer aspire for a SEA Games gold, her focus will shift to the tougher 19th Asian Games taking place in Hangzhou, China, in September-October of this year.
In the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games, Watanabe settled for the silver.
Carter said the non-participation in Cambodia will enable Watanabe and her coaches to devote their time and effort to an improved showing in the Asian Games by spending training camps outside Japan.
Watanabe currently trains at the Waseda University in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district.
In place of the SEA Games is a possible stint in a tournament in Kuwait in April, Carter said.
“The timing is good since her coaches had told her to focus on the Asian Games.”