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Olympic Games: Tomokazu Harimoto, in at the deep end

Sunday 13 June

The youngest ever; that accolade has been bestowed on Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto time and again as he performed quite prodigious feats.

He became the youngest men’s singles winner on the ITTF World Tour when he succeeded in 2017 in the Czech Republic; he was 14 years and 61 days old. Later in 2018, he became the youngest men’s singles winner at the Grand Finals. He was 15 years and 172 days old when he won in Incheon.

However, at the forthcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, when play starts on Saturday 24th July, he will not be the youngest on duty; that privilege belongs to Syria’s Hend Zaza.

She was one of the first players to emerge through the qualification system when she succeeded at the West Asia Qualification tournament staged in the Jordanian capital city of Amman in January 2020.

On the day the first ball is hit in anger in the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, Hend Zaza will be 12 years and 201 days old. She is way ahead of the field in terms of juvenility; by comparison, Tomokazu Harimoto at 18 years and 30 days will be a veritable senior citizen.

Also, Tomokazu Harimoto will be older than both his compatriot Mima Ito and China’s Guo Yue, when they made debuts. Both players who have set records in the “youngest ever” class.

Guo Yue was 15 years and 28 days old when she made her Olympic debut in 2004 in Athens; Mima Ito 15 years 250 days old when play started in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

However, never has a player so young occupied a role of such responsibly in the table tennis events at an Olympic Games.

In Athens, Guo Yue only competed in the women’s doubles, she won bronze partnering Niu Jianfeng. Likewise, in Rio de Janeiro, Mima Ito was only on women’s team duty. Similar to Guo Yue, joining forces with Kasumi Ishikawa and Ai Fukuhara, a bronze medal was secured.

Responsible positions in the overall team but compare their situation with Tomokazu Harimoto.

Presently listed at no.4 on the men’s world rankings, he is some distance ahead of teammates in Tokyo, Koki Niwa and Jun Mizutani; Koki Niwa appears at no.17, Jun Mizutani one place lower.

Tomokazu Harimoto leads the line, to some extent when Guo Yue and Mima Ito made their debuts they were the third players in the team.

Moreover, the fact Tomokazu Harimoto will be playing on home soil adds to the scenario; it is a pressure cooker situation, it is in at the deep end.

How will he respond? Will playing with intense home support when so much is expected prove too much or will it be the greatest source of motivation?

My vote: he’ll revel in the situation; the scene is set.

Editor: Ian Marshall

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