By Jean Malanum
MANILA – The quest for Olympic slots continues for Filipino-Japanese judokas Shugen and Keisei Nakano who are scheduled to compete at the Tel Aviv Grand Slam in Israel from Feb. 16 to 18.
A total of 404 athletes – 227 men and 177 women – from 54 countries are entered in the second tournament under the International Judo Federation (IJF) World Tour.
The Nakano twins and Kiyomi Watanabe saw action at the Grand Prix Portugal two weeks ago.
Shugen, 26, bowed to Karim Adarvez of Argentina in the first round of the men’s minus 66kg category while Keisei lost to Uranbayar Odgerel of Mongolia in the men’s minus 73kg category.
“At the Grand Prix Portugal, we lost after taking a point at the end of extra time. I am very disappointed that I didn’t get the chance. I think it was a game where my weak points came out at the end,” world No. 99 Shugen said in an online interview on Wednesday.
“After the tournament in Portugal, I went to Valencia, Spain for a two-week training camp to overcome my weaknesses. I hope to be able to demonstrate the results of this at the Tel Aviv Grand Slam,” added Shugen, who beat Kerin Vasapolli of French Polynesia in the finals of the 2022 Tahiti Oceania Open to claim his first medal and title in an Olympic qualifier.
The 26-year-old Watanabe, another Filipino-Japanese who saw action at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, was also eliminated by Diassonema Mucungui in the first round of the women’s minus 63kg category.
Watanabe, ranked No. 117 in the world, failed to defend her Southeast Asian (SEA) Games title in Vietnam last year due to a foot injury. Despite her absence, the Philippines managed to win two gold medals coming from Shugen and Rena Furukawa, who triumphed in the women’s minus 57kg category. World No. 85 Keisei pocketed a silver medal.
The four judokas will lead the Philippine campaign in the Cambodia SEA Games set on May 5-17.
“There are also a number of Olympic qualifying competitions leading up to May. But I always keep in mind the gold medal at the Cambodia SEA Games. I will continue to do my best,” said Shugen, a SEA Games double-gold medalist.
Meanwhile, Philippine Judo Federation (PJF) former president and current secretary general David Carter emphasized the need to compete in the Olympic qualifiers.
“All the tournaments under the IJF World Tour are Olympic qualifying events. The more tournaments our athletes join, the more points they earn,” he said.
Aside from the Cambodia SEA Games, the national judokas are gearing up for the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China slated to be held on Sept. 23 to Oct. 8. (PNA)