Jun Mizutani responds, at last for Japan
Four years earlier at the London 2012 Olympic Games, the trio comprising Ai Fukuhara, Sayaka Hirano and Kasumi Ishikawa had secured a memorable silver medal in the women’s team event but as Rio de Janeiro approached, despite being ever present since table tennis entered the multi-sport event in 1988 in Seoul, no man had ever stood on the elegantly draped podium.
In the Brazilian city, that unwanted record came to an end; the player to be thanked, Jun Mizutani.
On Thursday 11th August he secured men’s singles bronze to end approaching three decades of disappointment; before, alongside Koki Niwa and Maharu Yoshimura, reserving men’s team silver.
It was a quite remarkable performance, overall, he played 11 matches; that was more than any other player in the whole tournament. Moreover, of those matches, he won 10, that was also a record; more than any other player in the whole of the tournament.
Also, one more distinction can be added, he remained unbeaten throughout the whole of the men’s team event; the only player not from China ever to achieve the feat.
Commencing play in the third round of the men’s singles event, he beat Panagiotis Gionis of Greece (11-9, 10-12, 11-5, 11-8, 11-6), the host nation’s Hugo Calderano (11-5, 11-6, 11-13, 8-11, 11-8, 12-10) and Portugal’s Marcos Freitas (11-4, 9-11, 11-3, 11-8, 10-12, 11-2) to reserve his place in the penultimate round where China’s Ma Long awaited.
Perhaps, it was not the best of times to play Ma Long; he was playing in the men’s singles event at an Olympic Games for the first time, by the time the sixth day of play in the Riocentro had been reached, the machine was well oiled. A brave effort from Jun Mizutani, winning the fourth and fifth games, but not enough. Ma Long prevailed (11-5, 11-5, 11-5, 7-11, 10-12, 11-5).
Now, the bronze medal match awaited, he faced Vladimir Samsonov of Belarus, a player who had appeared in every Olympic Games since 1996 in Atlanta, like Jun Mizutani, had never gained a place on the podium. Unless you were from Belarus or Japan, you wanted neither player to suffer the agony of losing in the most cruel match of all; over the years owing to their manners and exemplary behaviour, both had gained the respect of all.
The verdict went in favour of Jun Mizutani (11-4, 11-9, 6-11, 14-12, 11-8).
In the men’s singles, Jun Mizutani had started life the no.4 seed and had risen one step higher; for Japan in the men’s team competition, it was the same, only on this occasion it was two steps higher.
Again, Jun Mizutani was superb, he shouldered responsibility, always he was nominated to play a potential two singles matches, always Koki Niwa and Maharu Yoshimura formed the doubles partnership.
From the very start Jun Mizutani steered the ship and in the opening saved the vessel from sinking; the no.12 seeds, Poland’s Jakub Dyjas, Daniel Gorak and Wang Zengyi proved worthy opponents. A 3-2 win was the order of the day, Jun Mizutani beating both Jakub Dyjas (12-10, 11-9, 9-11, 12-10) and Daniel Gorak (11-9, 11-4, 8-11, 11-9).
Nervous moments, at the quarter-final stage a 3-1victory margin was the outcome against Hong Kong, Jun Mizutani overcame Wong Chun Ting (11-5, 11-9, 3-11, 10-12, 11-8), before by the same margin, the trio upset the odds. They beat the no.2 seeds, the German trio comprising Timo Boll, Dimitrij Ovtcharov and Bastian Steger; Jun Mizutani proved the pivotal player, he accounted for Timo Boll (11-9, 11-5, 12-10) and Bastian Steger (11-5, 11-4, 11-4) to guide Japan to a guaranteed medal.
China in the guise of Ma Long, Xu Xin and Zhang Jike awaited; China had steamrollered their way to the final, the top seeds had not surrendered a single match. In the final they maintained winning ways, but the perfect record was not maintained; giving heart and soul to he cause, in the second match of the fixture, Jun Mizutani beat Xu Xin (12-10, 11-9, 3-11, 7-11, 12-10).
In the Riocentro, at 27 years of age, was Jun Mizutani not at his prime? He had risen to the occasion; five years later, at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, can he do the same?
He will have a passionate crowd in the Tokyo Metropolitan gymnasium willing him forward.
Editor: Ian Marshall