Congratulations on your sixth Games – what a fantastic achievement. What has been the best moment of your Olympic career so far?
Do you know what it was? I’ve had good wins at the Olympics, I won the world championships, and came in ninth in Atlanta. But as far as the Olympics are concerned, my greatest achievement was the moment I walked in my front door and told my mother that I had secured a spot in the Olympic Games.
Seeing how happy that made my mother, my father, my grandmother, my whole family, was so great. It was like that this time, too. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to win a medal yet – it’s very challenging because China has such strong players, and Europe as well. But I’m not upset at all I didn’t win that medal, because I brought my parents so much joy.
Well, if it were easy to win an Olympic medal ...
Yes. Just the fact that I’m 43 – it sets an example for other athletes, as well. You can start or finish at any age.
What are your hopes for London 2012 – what are you expecting from these Games?
I’m confident that when I return from London, it will have been one of my best Olympics. Britain is a country with a great tradition in sports, and a lot of discipline too. That makes it easier for athletes to do their best – just thinking about it puts us at ease. When I play in championships where I know the table might be bad, that it might have a disruptive reflection, or that the floor could be slippery, it changes my game. But not this time. All I have to think about is playing, and doing the best I can for my country. The British are wonderful hosts, and I think everyone will be wanting to make the Brazilians happy, you know?
Yes – with 2016 coming up, I bet that the Brazilians will be some of the favourites.
Brazil’s always well received by other countries because Brazilians are so laid back. As an athlete, I plan on taking full advantage of that! Even though I’m Japanese, I’ll be there as a Brazilian, so I’ll be able to enjoy that special treatment.
Aren’t you Brazilian?
I am Brazilian. I was born in Brazil – but I’m of Japanese descent, so I don’t think people will know I’m Brazilian there if I don’t say anything. But I’ll be wearing Brazil’s colours.
What about Rio 2016 – what will it feel like to participate in the Olympics in your home country?
Well, I hope I’ll be there – I’m not sure yet. But yes, it will definitely be different. When you play at home, in your own country, there’s so much more motivation – and the responsibility is doubled. At the 2007 Pan-American Games in Rio, we won a gold medal, and it was amazing to have our fans right there, cheering us on. That’s something that the British will be feeling this year. But I know the fans will be great and I think Brazil will learn a lot from London. We’re capable of being organised too, but we’re still getting there.
- The table tennis events at the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games begin on 28 July and run until 8 August.
- For in-depth coverage of what to see, do and eat during the forthcoming Olympics, head over to Time Out London's full online guide to the London Olympics