Japan stars target Olympic medal in Paris

Having booked their tickets to France in Osaka earlier this month, Japan’s men’s and women’s teams want to make the most of their opportunity at the Olympic Games Paris 2024.

With their places in the men’s and women’s tournaments at the Olympic Games Paris 2024 secured, Japan’s players have set their sights on returning from France with a medal.

Japan made sure of a hat-trick of appearances in both Olympic tournaments earlier this month, as they won the men’s and women’s Asia Rugby qualifiers in Osaka.

The country came close to a medal when rugby sevens made its Games debut at Rio 2016, the men losing the bronze medal match against South Africa at Deodoro Stadium.

Five years later, the team finished a disappointing 11th on home soil, while the Sakura Sevens ended the women’s tournament in 12th, having been 10th in Rio.

However, both squads are hoping to make history and earn a place on the podium when the medals are handed out at Stade de France in July.

“When I played in the Tokyo Olympics, we ended up [with] disappointing results in our homeland and I felt frustrated,” Sakura Sevens captain Yume Hirano said.

“I feel that I should pay that Olympic debt back on the stage of the Olympics.”

Men’s captain Taisei Hayashi believes the Games in Paris offers another opportunity to raise the profile of sevens in Japan.

He added: “Having reached the Olympics – the best showcase in sports – is great for us. I believe that will help develop the sevens game in Japan over the coming days, weeks and months.

“I hope we can move on to produce a good result and win a medal in Paris. I’ve got a positive feeling that our team is getting stronger, and I am enjoying every challenge and experience now.

“I want to carry on and make a big challenge in the Olympics.”

Wakaba Hara, who scored two tries in five appearances for the Sakura Sevens at Tokyo 2020, was buoyed by experiencing qualifying success on home soil and is excited to showcase the sport to a wider audience next year.

“What I am really happy about is that by qualifying for the Olympics, we’ve been able to secure a place to be watched by the people,” she said.

“This time we played the qualifying tournament at home and that has given us the opportunity to show rugby sevens to many people here [in Japan].

“Now I hope we can get together, not only the players but also with the fans here, to work hard to win a medal at the Olympics.”

The Sakura Sevens will prepare for their third appearance at the Games by taking on the best teams in the world during HSBC SVNS 2024.

Japan finished the women’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 strongly, beating Ireland to fifth place at the HSBC France Sevens in Toulouse.

That was their best ever tournament result in the Series and captain Hirano is confident the team will continue to improve during the upcoming SVNS season, which gets underway in Dubai this weekend.

She said: “We’ll be prepared to play against the world’s top teams in the coming World Series and that, I believe, will help us prepare for winning a medal in the Olympics.”

Last updated: Dec 14, 2023, 12:31:42 PM
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