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Judokas face uphill climb

HANGZHOU, China — The  battle will not be easy for Kiyomi Watanabe and the Filipino judokas in the 19th Asian Games here.

Philippine Judo Federation secretary general Dave Carter admitted that other countries have improved significantly, making it harder for them to win their first gold medal in the prestigious quadrennial meet.

Leah Jane Lopez will open the country’s campaign when she battles Abiba Abuzhaknyova of Kazakhstan in the Round of 16 of the women’s 48-kilogram on Sunday at the Xiaoshan Linpu Gymnasium here.

Also wading into battle is Shugen Nakano, who will face Saoud Alamiri of Kuwait in the Round of 32 of the men’s 66-kilogram.

The 26-year-old Nakano clinched the gold medal in the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi in 2022 before settling for silver in the 32nd biennial meet in Cambodia last May.

He will be competing against a 21-year-old Kuwaiti who finished fifth in the 2023 Arab Judo Championships and seventh in the 2021 Asia-Oceania Judo Championships.

Aside from Nakano and Lopez, comprising the national judo squad are Kessie Nakano (men’s 73-kg), John Viron Ferrer (men’s 81-kg), Carl Dave Aseneta (men’s 100-kg), Rena Furukawa (women’s 57-kg), Ryoko Salinas (women’s 70-kg), Dylwynn Gimena (women’s 78-kg), and Watanabe (women’s 63-kg).

Their coaches are Franco Teves, Gilbert Ramirez and Olympian Kodo Nakano in this four-day tourney that drew 203 competitors from 28 countries.

“Winning the gold medal will not be easy. But if we’re talking about medals of any color, I think our athletes have a chance,” said Carter, whose wards were supported by the Philippine Sports Commission.

Watanabe, 27, is the country’s brightest hope to win a medal.

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