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Foluke Akinradewo: “I take things one day at a time”

A key player for the United States team, Foluke Akinradewo celebrates a point at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Colorado, USA, November 2, 2017 – Two-time Olympic medallist Foluke Akinradewo is starting her third Olympic Games cycle for the USA women’s national team.

In an interview with USA Volleyball, Akinradewo talked about her second club stint in Japan and shared her thoughts on pursuing a third Olympic Games appearance, as well as what she will do after retirement.

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You are playing in the Japan V.League for the second time, what influenced your decision to return this year?

Akinradewo: Japan holds a special place in my heart. I love the people and the culture. When deciding where I wanted to play next, I thought about where I was my happiest, and it was Japan without a doubt. Still very pumped about my decision.

Japan is well-known for having great defensive players. As one of the best offensive middles in the world, how does that affect your own play as your opponent makes you work even harder for a single point?

Akinradewo: Playing against Japanese defenders has to be one of the most frustrating things for any attacker. There have already been a few times that I’ve hit the best attack of my career and either my teammates during practice or my opponents in a V.League match made it look like a free ball. I’ve been forced to learn patience and to place the ball in smart areas when I’m in trouble. When a kill is hard to come by, you certainly appreciate it more.

Great athletes are constantly working to get better. What are some things you are working on in Japan to improve your game?

Akinradewo: I’m trying to become a more effective attacker. I’m trying to increase my vision while attacking – doing a better job seeing the block and using what I see to my advantage. Blocking has always been a difficult skill for me, so I’m constantly learning and trying to improve. The offense in Japan is really fast like in the USA gym, so I’m trying to do a better job reading the setter, which always helps put a jump on things. After that is my hand positioning – getting low, over, and invading the space of my opponent.

Also, since I’m in Japan, I get to work in a lot of defensive drills. I’m hoping work in that department will help decrease my ‘middle problems’ in the back row.

At what point in your career did you have the skills to become among the best middles in the world and compete in the Olympics?

Akinradewo: I have yet to have that ‘aha moment’, which I realise is an odd thing to say, considering I’ve been fortunate enough to compete in two Olympic Games. I’m still surprised I’ve been so blessed. Perhaps it’s because I don’t feel like I’ve arrived yet. There are so many aspects of the game in which I need to improve. I just keep my head down and try to tackle it one day at a time.

What are your favourite things to do while in Japan away from volleyball?

Akinradewo: I’ve been such a homebody and pretty lazy since I’ve been here. I usually spend my day off FaceTiming with my family back home and relaxing. I recently started watching Game of Thrones, which is taking up a lot of my time. It’s so good! I’ve gone out to dinner a few times with my team-mates, discovering new Japanese cuisine, which is always a fun adventure. I hope to explore Japan more as the season progresses, especially when my family comes out to visit me.

You are playing in the country that will host the next Olympic Games, describe the frenzy surrounding the Olympics coming to Tokyo in 2020?

Akinradewo: I haven’t noticed much at all, but perhaps that’s because I live in Kobe, which is pretty far from Tokyo. But from what I know about the Japanese, they are very organised and have a lot of country pride, so I’m sure it will be a phenomenal Olympic Games.

You have already competed in two Olympic Games, winning a silver in 2012 and bronze in 2016. Is working toward becoming a three-time Olympian among your goals? If so, will you prepare any differently than in past Olympic cycles?

Akinradewo: I’m trying to take things one day at a time, and at most, one season at a time. I’m not really looking that far ahead, but if I decide to play through 2020 and I’m fortunate enough to make the Olympic roster, that would be a great blessing. And I wouldn’t mind adding a gold medal to the mix? I don’t think I would prepare differently. My only goal is to keep improving in all aspects of the game.

When will you know that it is time to retire from playing the sport?

Akinradewo: I’ve always said that as long as both my mind and body are in it, I’ll continue playing. Once one is lacking, I’ll know it’s time to stop.”

You graduated with a degree in human biology and come from a family which is active in the medical field, what are your plans post-volleyball?

Akinradewo: I feel like I had my life figured out when I was 20 and then life actually happened. Now at 30, I haven’t a clue what I want to do. I tend to change my mind every other day, so anything I say now will probably change before this is published. I know I want to do something in medicine, but more than likely will not be medical school.

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