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“Volleyball is a fight in a class of its own” says Japan track & field star and Olympic bronze medallist Naoki Tsukahara

Japan sprinter and Olympic bronze medallist Naoki Tsukahara was the guests of honor attending Friday's game starring the home heroes vs. Brazil at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium
Tokyo, Japan, November 22, 2013 – Together with Shingo Suetsugu, Shinji Takahira and Nobuharu Asahara, Naoki Tsukahara competed in the 4x100 metres relay final at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The foursome eventually placed third after Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago to win Japan’s first track medal in 80 years and the first ever by male athletes.

“Volleyball is very similar to track and field,” he said Friday evening as he joined forces with thousands of Japanese fans to cheer on the home heroes who were playing their third World Grand Champions Cup game and first at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. “It is like a real fight where you nevertheless have no physical contact with your opponent. And it is very similar to a relay: in volleyball every single player has to perform well and three good touches are necessary to win the rally. The same applies to track and our relay: you need four good sprinters and the right chemistry to make it work.”

Tsukahara was invited to the game starring Japan and Brazil by host broadcaster NTV mainly for his very close connection with volleyball. “A few players of Team Japan are very good friends of mine,” he reveals. “Yoshihiko Matsumoto is a good friend and apart from this, we share the same home town, i.e. Okaya, a city located in Nagano Prefecture. Yusuke Ishijima, aka Gottsu, is another good friend of mine.”

The Olympic bronze medallist from Beijing 2008 is not only a fan of the game: “I have been playing volleyball at high-school and college as well. I attended Tokai University and there I also got to know Kunihiro Shimizu who is one of the major stars of our national team right now. I still play beach volleyball quite regularly for this is part of my training” Tsukahara continues. “However, track and field remains at the centre of my life. I enjoyed running since my childhood and joined my first competitions very early, by the time I was only 8 years old.”

Tsukahara was the sprinter who opened that relay at Beijing 2008 and he still gets goose bumps by recalling that night: “I was the one who had to set the tone of the race and I will never forget the way I felt once I got to know that we had won bronze.”

Similarly to many other Japanese athletes, he is very much involved also in the promotion of the 2020 Olympics that Tokyo will be hosting in seven years. “Like everyone here in Japan I feel very excited and look forward to the 2020 Olympics. I am 28 right now and still do not know if I will be able to compete there. In seven years I will be 35 but if I stay injury-free I hope I can make it there. I have talked to Yuki Ota (a Japanese fencer who won silver in the men’s foil at Beijing 2008 and in the team event at London 2012); he was also born in 1985 and we have agreed that we want to be together at Tokyo 2020 to be once again an Olympian for Japan, but this time in our home country. That would be amazing.”


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