Lausanne, Switzerland, April 24, 2019 – London 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Erika Araki spoke to fivb.com about her volleyball idol, motherhood and guiding Japan at the FIVB Volleyball Nations League and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Before playing for the national team, she played for the prestigious volleyball school Seitoku Gakuen and won three national titles. The young Araki idolised USA player Danielle Scott – little did she know that one day she would play on the same court as the five-time Olympian.
“I look up to Danielle Scott because she changed my perception of middle blockers.” Araki said. “She was such a collected and powerful middle blocker. She had a lot of influence on me.”
Araki has performed above and beyond the call of duty for her national team since 2004. She first appeared at the Olympic Games at Beijing 2008 and that same year played overseas for Italian club Foppapedretti Bergamo.
“Playing overseas was one of my biggest goals as a player and I was able to fulfil that goal. That experience had a big influence on me as a professional athlete because it helped me balance my career and private life.”
Her time overseas changed her outlook and helped her become a strong leader. In 2012, she was among the key players to guide Japan to bronze at the London Olympics. After that, she chose to focus on family life and got married in 2013 and gave birth to a baby girl in 2014.
At that point, everyone thought that was the end of Araki’s national team career but many fans were thrilled when news came out about her comeback at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. For her, it was just a great balancing act between playing volleyball and motherhood.
“I love volleyball and I always have the desire to get better,” Araki said. “It is important to always have an ambition and to enjoy the challenge.
“My family understands what I do and they always support me, that is why I can continuously compete at this level. When I became a mother, I was able to play more calmly. It became easier to train as my focus on the game got better.”
Needless to say, the Japanese veteran has nailed down the art of making a great comeback. Last year, she missed the Volleyball Nations League but returned again to the national team for the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship and sparked a lot of good energy in the team.
While she may not have the same amount of playing time as she used to, the 34-year-old middle blocker provides something that others cannot – experience and a lot of quality moments on the court.
She believes that the team’s performance at the Volleyball Nations League will be vital when they play at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“The national team schedule has not been revealed at this stage. This season will be very important leading up to Tokyo 2020, and I am dedicated to the team.
“I’m happy to be in a position to compete in the Olympic Games that will be held in my own country. I want the Japanese fans to support us so that we can come up with good results.”
At the club level, Araki plays for Toyota Auto Body, where she is passing on her experience and guiding her teammates.
“I am having a great time with the club, the staff and the players. Our goal this season was to become champions but we finished the season in fourth place. However, I can feel that the team is steadily improving.
“I hope I can be a good role model to my teammates by showing them my attitude and approach towards competition.”
Araki also hopes that when she is done playing, she will be able to use her influence to promote the sport on a larger scale.
“I would like to promote volleyball and convey its appeal to many people. I would like to use my influence and make volleyball more popular in Japan.”
Her maternal instinct kicked in when asked whether she would encourage her daughter to pursue becoming an athlete.
“I will not force her into becoming an athlete. I just want her to find something that she will love. It doesn’t matter whether it is in sports or not.”
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