Bangkok, Thailand, August 29, 2020 – It has been four years since London 2012 Olympic Games bronze medalist Saori Sakoda retired from the sport, marking the end of an era in Japanese volleyball.

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Four years after hanging her jersey, the life of the 32-year-old is now on an entirely new course.

“My life has shifted by 180 degrees since I retired from the national team.

“Whenever I look back at my career, perhaps the thing I miss the most is working hard at the gym together with my teammates with our eyes on the same goal,” Sakoda said.

While her time on the court as a player is now over, Sakoda’s daily routine is still pretty much anchored to the sport she has always loved.

“Right now, I am teaching volleyball and doing commentary at major volleyball events. From time to time, I also do TV appearances in my hometown in Kagoshima,” the former wing spiker said.

Like a hinotori—Japanese for “phoenix” and monicker of their women’s team—the entire volleyball world will remember the five-foot-nine hitter for her high-flying ability and clutch moments whenever she comes off the bench. Sakoda’s name will forever be tied with Japan’s London 2012 bronze medal in which she delivered the final blow.

For Sakoda, however, the medal-winning spike at the Earls Court Exhibition Centre is just a part of a six-year long and unforgettable journey with Hinotori Nippon.

“I was really happy to contribute to our success as a member of the team. After scoring the last point in London and realizing we won the bronze medal, it was truly fulfilling to see all the staff and all of my teammates happy and smiling,” she said.

While her six-year stint wearing the Japanese jersey was highlighted by bronze medals at the 2012 Olympics and the 2010 World Championship, Sakoda said it was the entire journey that will forever remain in her heart.

“My whole life with the national team is an unforgettable journey. I was able to experience things not everyone gets the privilege to try, especially the chance to fight with your country behind you and the sense of responsibility.

“No word can ever express the passion I have witnessed in the eyes of the world’s top players that I have played with. Playing for the national team changed my life and taught me how wonderful volleyball is,” Sakoda said.

A new generation will continue what they have started once the Tokyo 2020 Olympics begin. This does not mean, however, she is out of the Japanese volleyball cast. Come 2021, Sakoda will play a new role—two of them: as a supporter and as a part of the broadcast team.

“Tokyo 2020 will be totally different from the previous Olympic Games because I will now be supporting from the commentary box. As an analyst, I hope to inspire more people who support the daily hardwork of the current players in the Japanese national team.

“I hope the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will bring both the Japanese national team and volleyball itself closer to the hearts of many people,” the 32-year-old said.

After experiencing it herself, Sakoda knows how electric their home crowd can be. With her country hosting the Olympic Games, she hopes the ever-passionate Japanese fans will rally to help their team reach their podium dreams.

“The cheers from the crowds are indispensable for the players. From my experience, playing in front of your home crowd and hearing the entire stadium cheering is truly encouraging. Players actually perform beyond their capacity thanks to the cheers,” said Sakoda.

Sakoda can attest how volleyball can turn one’s life around. While her time on court is over, Sakoda hopes people will continue to embrace the sport and have their lives changed the way it changed hers.

“Playing volleyball brings irreplaceable people to your life. There are a lot of things no one can achieve alone but can possibly be accomplished when you do it with your friends. Never forget who you are and continue working hard with your friends to achieve your goals together,” Sakoda closed.

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