Fukushima-educated players win badminton mixed doubles bronze

Photo: The badminton mixed doubles pair of Yuta Watanabe (left) and Arisa Higashino show off their bronze medals at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza in Tokyo on July 30

Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino, who graduated from Tomioka High School in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Tomioka, won the badminton mixed doubles bronze medal at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza in Tokyo on July 30, the eighth day of the Tokyo Olympic Games. Watanabe and Higashino, both of whom are 24 years old and members of the Nihon Unisys team in the domestic league, entered the Olympic competition ranked fifth in the world and pulled off a straight-game win over the 13th-ranked Hong Kong pair in the bronze medal match. The victory made them the first Japanese pair to reach the mixed doubles podium in Olympic badminton, with Watanabe becoming the first man from the country to take an Olympic badminton medal in the process. From the outset, Watanabe prevailed with a series of attacking plays, as the Japan pair won the first game 21-17. They fell behind early in the second, but Higashino's tenacious defensive performances helped them turn things around and they eventually won it 23-21. Watanabe, a Tokyo native, and Higashino, who hails from Hokkaido, formed their partnership in 2012 when they were Tomioka Daiichi Junior High School students. The pair won twice -- in 2018 and 2021 -- at the All England Open Championships, and have claimed four straight national titles from 2017. The badminton bronze was the first Summer Games medal won by athletes with connections to Fukushima Prefecture in four Olympics since the Athens Games in 2004, when Toshiaki Fushimi, a graduate of Shirakawa Jitsugyo High School, took a silver in the men's team sprint cycling. In other badminton matches at Tokyo 2020, Nozomi Okuhara, 26, the women's singles bronze medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics who plays for the Taiyo Holdings team, and 24-year-old Akane Yamaguchi of the Saishunkan team both crashed out in the women's singles quarterfinals. That left Watanabe and Higashino as the only Japanese remaining in the badminton competitions after the games played on July 30. (Translated by Kyodo News)