The message from his wife on the handkerchief tucked away in his singlet impelled Yuki TAKAHASHI to be confident and assured him “it was going to be a good day.” How right she was.
Takahashi came up with the win he had waited for his entire life–the one that earned him an Olympic ticket–by defeating 2016 Rio Olympics silver medalist Rei Higuchi 4-2 in a wrestle-off Saturday for Japan’s freestyle 57kg spot at the Tokyo Games. With this 57kg will become a battleground with Ravi Dahiya, Nurislam Sanayev and Zaur Uguev.
Takahashi, the 2017 world champion, filled the Olympic spot he himself had secured at the final world qualifying tournament just over a month ago after scoring a 2-point counter exposure with a minute to go to defeat Higuchi in the special match held at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto National Training Center.
“He’s the Rio silver medalist and I know he’s a strong wrestler,” the 27-year-old Takahashi said. “To me, I was the one who got the Olympic berth [for Japan] and making it mine was another step in the process. I didn’t want to waste the chance.”
Under strict coronavirus protocols with Tokyo still in the third state of emergency, only about 20 people were present at the match in the NTC wrestling room, not unlike the final gladiator fight scene between Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis in Spartacus.
The match had originally been scheduled to be held on the final day of the Meiji Cup All-Japan Invitational Championships in late May but was pushed back as Takahashi had gone through a two-week quarantine upon returning from the final world qualifier in Sofia, Bulgaria.
“I’m more relieved than anything,” Takahashi said. “After I got back from the world qualifying tournament, the date [of the playoff] wasn’t decided and it made me anxious and things remained tense. I had to maintain the weight that I had just done [in Sofia].
“Anyway, there’s only 1 1/2 months until the Olympics. I’ll take a little rest, then change gears and do what I have to so I have no regrets.”