Badminton: Nagahara, Matsumoto set for Tokyo Olympics as Takahashi retires

Mayu Matsumoto, left, and Wakana Nagahara of Japan, who won the women’s doubles title at the 2019 world badminton championships in Basel, Switzerland, attend a press conference at Tokyo’s Haneda airport on Aug. 27, 2019, upon their return from the trip. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japanese women’s doubles badminton pair Wakana Nagahara and Mayu Matsumoto all but punched their tickets to the postponed Tokyo Games next summer after Rio de Janeiro Olympic champion Ayaka Takahashi announced her retirement on Wednesday.

Nagahara and Matsumoto, the winners of back-to-back world championships in 2018 and 2019, are set to follow Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota in claiming one of Japan’s two berths. Their world No. 2 ranked compatriots essentially sealed their spot in March when they won the All England Open.

Both pairs are readying to make their first Olympic appearances after Takahashi’s retirement guaranteed they will remain the two highest-ranked Japanese pairs in the top eight of the qualifying race, even if they miss all the remaining tournaments scheduled next year.

The race to Tokyo started in April last year but was suspended after the All England Open due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Fukushima and Hirota lead the qualification race, with Nagahara and Matsumoto following in third.

Nagahara, 24, and Matsumoto, 25, both stand over 170 centimeters tall and boast strong swings. The duo claimed their maiden national title in December last year after becoming the first Japanese to repeat as badminton world champions.

Takahashi won Japan’s first-ever Olympic gold medal in badminton in Brazil four years ago with her partner Misaki Matsutomo, who said she will continue her career in mixed doubles.

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