Badminton: On home turf, Japanese shuttlers eager to extend their medal dominance
Devoid of overseas spectators, Japanese shuttlers Nozomi Okuhara, Kento Momota among others will bank on the advantage of playing on home turf to steady their medal chances.
The functionality of being and feeling at-home is one that naturally permeates the length and breadth of the human mind. Playing the role of quite the catalyst, especially in the field of sports, the comfort of playing at-home takes precedence over playing 'away' matches, in the psychology of the athletes.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which is due to begin from July 23rd will see Japanese players keen on extending their medal domination. Heading into the quadrennial sporting extravaganza, badminton will act as a prime area of medal conversion with an incredibly in-form Japanese contingent of shuttlers setting sail for the capital city. Led by 2016 Rio Olympic Games bronze medalist, Nozomi Okuhara and World No. 5 Akane Yamaguchi on the women's half and World No. 1 Kento Momota on the men's front, Japan is set to create history on their home soil.
Playing in front of the home crowd, the Japanese shuttlers are easily expected to have a massive advantage, mentally. Causing quite the uproar on the BWF tour, the Japanese stars have been picking up titles smoothly since the beginning of 2021. The chances of scaling up the Olympic medal tally in badminton from the fifth position seems absolutely feasible now, especially with the dependable home support.
Absence of overseas fans at the Olympics a boon in disguise for the Japanese players?
Looking past the ghastly glaring economical blow dealt out by the COVID-19 pandemic that is seriously costing the sponsors of the Olympics, a greater fact looms. The Japanese government working in tandem with the IOC for the Tokyo Olympics arrived at the decision that the Games will be held without any overseas spectators.
In a pandemic-stricken world, the necessity to limit the inflow of foreigners from other countries is obvious. Taking that into account, "The organising committee has decided it is essential to hold the ceremony in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima behind closed doors, only permitting participants and invitees to take part in the event, to avoid large crowds forming amid the pandemic," Kyodo had reported.
This development directly correlates to the fact that the stands of the stadiums will be filled with Japanese supporters in an overwhelming majority. Naturally, this factor will act as a boon for the Japanese shuttlers gearing up to fight it out at the newly-constructed Musashino Forest Sport Plaza. Devoid of any major distraction from the largely Japanese crowd, the likes of Okuhara, Momota, Hiroyuki Endo - Yuta Watanabe or Yuki Fukushima - Sayaka Hirota are expected to excel.
The command of the Japanese over badminton has increased
Placed at the fifth position on the medal tally, with 3 medals, one of every hue, to their credit, Japan occupies a seemingly unassuming spot. The Chinese shuttlers tower over the table, having won 41 medals so far, while Indonesia and South Korea are jointly tied with 19 medals to their credit. At fourth place, Denmark has 8 medals to boast of.
Ever since Japan picked up their first medal in badminton at the 2012 London Olympics - a silver in the women's doubles when Mizuki Fuiji and Reika Kakiiwa edged past the Chinese pair of Tian Qing - Zhao Yunlei in a thrilling 10-21, 23-25 affair, there has been no looking back. At the 2016 Rio Games, the Japanese made themselves more prominent when they bagged their maiden gold medal in women's doubles. The pair of Misaki Matsutomo - Ayaka Takahashi defeated Denmark's Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl to clinch the gold while Japanese World No. 1, Nozomi Okuhara powered her way to pick up a bronze medal in the women's singles.
Currently, the crop of Japanese shuttlers headed to Tokyo are in rave form. At the All England Open 2021, the Japanese players made it to four of the five finals contested and emerged victorious in all four of them. While Okuhara defeated Thailand's Pornpawee Chochuwong to lift the women's singles trophy, the men's doubles final saw an all-Japanese face-off which resulted in World No. 4 pair, Hiroyuki Endo-Yuta Wantabe triumphing over World No. 5 duo Takeshi Kamura - Keigo Sonoda.
In the women's doubles as well, World No. 1 pair of Yuki Fukushima-Sayaka Hirota delivered a power-packed performance to win the prestigious All England title. Aside from this duo, there is the World No. 3 Japanese combine of Mayu Matsumoto-Wakana Nagahara also in the mix to forward the medal chances of the host nation.
If we are to only judge from this kind of showing, it is more than safe to say that the Japanese are destined to excel at the Tokyo Olympics. With such a powerful and over-arching command over all the different badminton events and the cheers of the home crowd to spur them on, Japanese shuttlers are poised for glory at the Tokyo Olympics.
The psychology behind home-turf advantage
Let's jog the memory a bit for starters. It's the 2nd of April and the year is 2011. Zooming in, we come to hover over a packed Wankhede stadium, identifiable from miles away auditorily with over 42,000 Indian fans shouting their lungs out, rousing in Mexican waves as India took on Sri Lanka in the 2011 Cricket World Cup Final. On that memorable day, the crowd played an integral role by keeping the atmosphere in the stadium thoroughly charged and all but pushed India to lift a record second World Cup trophy and the first one on home soil.
Just as familiar we are with the age-old adage of how: Home is where the heart is, playing at home comes with its fair share of uplifting, heartwarming sentiments. Research has shown that athletes tend to perform better and consequently get profitable results when they are playing in the presence of a familiar crowd.
It is no well-kept secret that fans play a crucial role in motivating athletes and boosting their morale, especially during pressure points of a match. At the great grand stage of the Olympics, even the most seasoned of players have complained of feeling the jitters. Having the skillset and the technical know-how of how to get past an opponent often falls short and the necessity to fall back on crowd support takes monumental importance.
In this regard, the Japanese shuttlers stand much to gain as they will head into the Tokyo Olympics with great hopes of firming their dominance on the Asian scene of badminton. Possessing some of the best players in the business to their credit and the home crowd on their team, it will be difficult to play spoilsport to Japan's badminton medal dreams at Tokyo.