First Youth Olympic Games gold medal winner Yuka Sato cheers on Team Japan in Tokyo
Sato was one of many fans in attendance at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium as Team Japan played Olympic bronze medallists and European vice champions Italy. “I really like volleyball and have been following the sport since my childhood” she said. “Though I have never played volleyball competitively for I started very young with running, swimming and cycling, I always enjoyed playing volleyball with my schoolmates at junior and senior high school.”
Questioned about the quintessence of volleyball, Sato did not hesitate to reply: “It is team work”, probably something she rarely got to experience in triathlon for she competes alone and she can only rely on her strengths. “I have followed all matches played by Team Japan so far in the tournament” she adds. “My favourite volleyball players are Saori Kimura and Kunihiro Shimizu. They are both very tall and owe a lot of respect to Saori and Kunihiro for what they have been able to achieve in their careers so far.”
However, apart from volleyball, there is an athlete that has particularly inspired Sato since the early days she decided to take up triathlon. “It is Naoko Takahashi, our marathon runner who won gold at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. We shared the same training venue and I always admired Naoko-san for her spirit and dedication to the sport. She has motivated me to devote myself to sport and would like to emulate her success” Sato adds.
August 15, 2010 is a day that Sato will never forget: on that day she won the triathlon race of the inaugural Youth Olympics in Singapore, with a margin of 14.70 seconds on her nearest competitor, Australia’s Ellie Salthouse. “Especially the very last stage of the race and the moment where I crossed the finish line were very emotional” she recalls. “I was overwhelmed with joy and there were many people cheering on me especially since my race was the first event on schedule.”
Sato is now 21 and by the time Tokyo hosts the Olympics in 2020 will be 28, i.e. the perfect age to be as competitive as possible in the senior division. “Of course my goal is to compete at Tokyo 2020 and win gold there. However, we first have another Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro in three years and my aim is to win a medal in Brazil so that I can build on this and improve four years later as the Olympics take place here in Japan. Since we got to know – a couple of months ago – that Tokyo got the right to host the 2020 Olympics, there is much excitement and I am sure that it will be a very special moment for Japan and all Japanese people. They will come together in a spirit of friendship and happiness, cheer on all athletes and share some memorable moments. I just can’t wait for these days to come even though there are still seven years ahead.”