SEA Games: Watanabe eyeing third straight gold in judo

KUALA LUMPUR — Filipino-Japanese Kiyomi Watanabe hopes to win her third straight gold medal when the 29th Southeast Asian Games judo competition begins on Saturday at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre here.

Watanabe will compete in the women’s under 63kg event, which she also dominated in three international tournaments early this year.

“I am inspired and determined to retain my title and bring honor to the Philippines again,” said Watanabe in an interview on Friday at the Sunway Putra Hotel, where the Filipino athletes are billeted.

“Today (Friday) is my birthday and it would be a nice gift if I win tomorrow,” said Watanabe when she visited the Philippine secretariat office in the same hotel. She was accompanied by her parents, Irene Sarausap and Shigeru Watanabe, Japanese coach Yazaki Yuta and national coach Roland Llamas.

“She trained so hard for this SEA Games,” said her mother Irene from Toledo, Cebu.

Watanabe, a junior sports science student at the Waseda University in central Tokyo, debuted in the 2011 SEA Games in Jakarta, Indonesia where she won the bronze medal.

This year, she won the gold in the Asian Open Women’s Judo Championship in Chinese Taipei, the silver in the European Open Women’s Judo Championship in Austria, and the bronze in the Paris Grand Slam, which is part of the International Judo Federation World Tour.

Watanabe has won back-to-back Most Valuable Player honors as member of the Waseda University team in the All Japan University tournament, winning the gold in 2015 and the silver in 2016.

Philippine Amateur Judo Association (PAJA) President Dave Carter said the 2017 SEA Games is included in Watanabe’s program to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“She did not compete in the qualifying tournament for the 2016 Rio Olympics because she’s young and lacking in experience. But with Tokyo hosting the next Olympic Games, she is more inspired to qualify there,” said Carter.