At the 2001 World Championships, staged in Osaka from Monday 23rd April to Sunday 6th May, in the women’s team event there was no stopping China; with Li Ju, Wang Yan and Zhang Yining the principal players, they never surrendered a single individual match.
Every score line from start to finish read three matches to nil.
Now with six of the top seven names on the women’s world rankings available for selection, the odds of a repeat when, hopefully we meet two years hence in Chengdu, could potentially witness the same. However, it is the name of the interloper that could well prevent such an occurrence, Mima Ito is the name in second spot in the global order, a fact that reflects the progress Japan has made in the past 20 years.
Now in 2021 Japan is the major challenger to Chinese excellence and that situation would seem likely to continue for some years to come; in addition to Mima Ito, note the names of Miu Hirano, Hina Hayata, Miyuu Kihara and Miyu Nagasaki, all players born this century. All players who have honed their skills on home soil. Make no mistake, there are more names that can be added to the list.
It is those players that reflect the progress Japan has made this century. At the 2001 World Championships, Japan secured women’s team bronze, no mean achievement but consider their team. The bright rising star was 21-year-old An Konishi, in the crucial contests she was selected alongside Junko Haneyoshi and Yoshie Takada. Junko Haneyoshi was 34 years old; Yoshie Takada was one year older.
Moreover, both Junko Haneyoshi and Yoshie Takada had learnt their skills in China before moving to play in the Japanese National League, Junko Haneyoshi was the former Li Jun, Yoshie Takada was previously known as Fang Jianxin.
Furthermore, in 2001 Japan almost did not reach the final; at the quarter-final stage they came perilously close to defeat when facing Romania, the fixture went the full distance with Mihaela Steff being the thorn in the side. She remained unbeaten.
• Yoshie Takada v Mihaela Steff 16-21, 21-19, 10-21
• Junko Haneyoshi v Otilia Badescu 21-18, 21-17
• An Konishi v Adriana Nastase 15-21, 29-27, 21-9
• Junko Haneyoshi v Mihaela Steff 21-18, 21-17
• Yoshie Takada v Otilia Badescu 21-17, 14-21, 21-13
A place in the penultimate round booked, against China, it was a resounding defeat.
• Zhang Yining v An Konishi 21-23, 21-15, 21-10
• Wang Nan - Yoshie Takada 21-14, 21-14
• Li Ju - Junko Haneyoshi 21-15, 21-12
Bronze the colour of the medal, now as we look to the 2022 World Championships, is there any European country that can mount a challenge to Japan in the women’s team event? Might the place on the podium be at least one if not two steps higher?Is a return to the glory days of the 1950s beyond the realms of possibility?