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Table Tennis: Tokyo 2020 on Japanese trio’s minds at Women’s World Cup

Sayaka Hirano (left), Ai Fukuhara and Kasumi Ishikawa are representing hosts Japan at the Women's World Cup.

Sayaka Hirano (left), Ai Fukuhara (middle) and Kasumi Ishikawa (right) are representing hosts Japan at the Starts Women’s World Cup in Kobe. Photos: ITTF.

September 21, 2013: For three Japanese women, the Starts Women’s World Cup in Kobe, Japan marks the start of a seven-year journey towards a dream home Olympics at Tokyo 2020.


Kasumi Ishikawa (second left), Ai Fukuhara and Sayaka Hirano are representing Japan at the Starts ITTF Women's World Cup in Kobe. Photos: ITTF.

Ishikawa, Fukuhara and Hirano at the press conference.

The Japanese trio of Kasumi Ishikawa, Ai Fukuhara and Sayaka Hirano, who captured the Japanese public’s imagination by winning the teams’ silver medal at London 2012, will kick off an exciting era for Japanese table tennis at the 16th Women’s World Cup, which runs from September 21-23.


Fukuhara, who had a wax sculpture of her erected in Tokyo’s airport after her London triumph, said: “The road to Tokyo starts here at the World Cup, with this very prestigious event in my home country, which I’m desperate to win.


“I will be 32 years old in 2020, so there’s still the possibility I can play. I was very involved in the work to bring the Olympics to Tokyo, so I’ll be working very hard over the next seven years to make this happen.”


World No.1 Liu Shiwen is bidding for her third World Cup title.

World No.1 Liu Shiwen is bidding for a third World Cup title.

China’s Liu Shiwen, who recently returned to the top of the world ranking, also has her eyes on Tokyo 2020, but right now is more focused on the job at hand in Kobe.


“I have won the Women’s World Cup twice before, so I really want my third this week. I actually came to Kobe 10 years ago and came second at the World Junior Championships, beating Ai Fukuhara on the way,” said the 22-year-old Liu, who first became World No. 1 at the age of 18.


Fukuhara and Liu have are battling 18 other women who have qualified from their respective Continental Cups as they bid to clinch the second most valuable table tennis gold medal of the year, after the World Championships.


The first round features the bottom 12 seeds in four groups of three, with the winner of the group progressing to the next round, where the top eight seeds are waiting to fight for the quarter-final positions in more group action.


In the first round, Group 2 pits 17-year-old American Ariel Hsing against New Zealander Li Chunli, 51, and Austria’s Liu Jia, 31, in a battle of generations.


Hsing, who is often videoed playing table tennis against Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, said: “I will need to fight for every point and try and forget about their experience, as when we’re on the table we’re all equal. I need to stay focused to be able to do that again and keep moving my feet and play my game.”


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