The Japanese pair aims at an Olympic medal on home sand

The internationally highest-ranked Japanese women’s pair, Miki Ishii and Megumi Murakami, recently secured the right to represent the host country at this summer’s Olympic Games by winning the special trials at home, in Japan. While the goal they’ve set for themselves is winning a medal at Tokyo 2020, right now they are focusing on improving their technical skills while playing with the sport’s international elite on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour.

“I am very proud to represent Japan. I have never experienced the Olympics before. This will be my first time to be an Olympian. There has been enough bad news recently, so I hope to bring good news to everybody in the world,” 31-year-old Miki Ishii told Volleyball World on the eve of the J&T Banka Ostrava Beach Open 4-star event in Czechia. “Because of the coronavirus situation, it’s a hard time for everybody. Right now, everybody’s safety comes first. I hope it is the first priority for everyone. If we can keep the coronavirus situation under control, I think we are going to have a great Olympic tournament.”

“We have been participating in the World Tour events in Cancun, Sochi and here in Ostrava, thanks to the implementation of the bubble system. I hope we can do the same thing at the Olympics, so we can have a great event,” 35-year-old Megumi Murakami added.

Ishii and Murakami are really excited about Japan hosting the world’s most important sports event of the year. They are proud to represent their country, but also hope to reach the Olympic podium.

“Hosting the Olympics is definitely going to help us in chasing our goal to win a medal. Right now we don’t know if we are going to have spectators at the stadium during the Olympics, but there are so many people in Japan who support us. So we want to show them our appreciation,” Ishii said.

“Many teams in Japan want to play at the Olympics, but we won the spot reserved for the host country, so we are going to play for them as well,” said Murakami.

Doing well at Tokyo 2020 is the main reason the Japanese pair have not missed any of the 4-star stops on the World Tour this spring. They took part in all three Cancun tournaments and in the event in Sochi, and now they are in Ostrava preparing for their first main draw match on the Czech sand on Thursday.

“We aim to win an Olympic medal, so we want to compete at a high level. That’s why we participate in the World Tour events, to get valuable experience,” said Ishii.

Actually, Ishii and Murakami have been playing on the World Tour as a team since they got together in 2015. Year by year, their appearances became more frequent and in 2019 they went to as many as 15 tournaments. Although they have not been able to go past the first elimination round since coming back on Tour in 2021, their goal to win a medal at Tokyo is not far-fetched at all.

Previously, they won two medals on the Tour together, a Daegu 1-star gold and a Tokyo 3-star bronze, but they also have some good results from higher-level tournaments, such as their fifth-place finishes at the 2016 Long Beach Grand Slam, the 2018 Gstaad Major and the 2019 Chetumal 4-star, their last World Tour appearance before the pandemic-prompted interruption.

And with the home-court advantage on their side, reaching the Tokyo Olympic podium this summer is a realistic goal and Miki and Megumi are ready to give their all to achieve it.

“Since we host the Olympics, I can also feel other countries’ support, more than usual, while on Tour. I don’t want to think too much, ‘oh, we have to win, we have to win!’, but I am going to try my best to win,” Megumi said.

“We are very small, so we are going to focus on serving, and we are going to focus on defence, to pick up the balls,” Miki gave out their strategy. “If we can use those skills well, we can compete with the teams from the other countries. We are trying to bring our skills to the next level and that’s what we are focusing on.”

With Ostrava being the last Tour stop within the Olympic qualification process and the date of the opening ceremony in Tokyo fast approaching, the excitement about the beach volleyball tournament at the Games can be felt stronger and stronger at the premises of the World Tour events. Miki and Megumi are no exception…

“Let’s make the Tokyo Olympics special and something we can remember!” they said together. “We are waiting for people to come to Japan, so see you in Tokyo!”

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