On Wednesday, Japan’s badminton world number one lost his first-round match at the Tokyo Olympics.
Kento Momota’s bid for gold ended after just two games when unseeded Heo Kwang-hee of South Korea defeated him 21-15, 21-19. Japanese athletes like tennis player Naomi Osaka and gymnast Kohei Uchimura have also suffered early exits. Despite adversity to participate in the Tokyo Olympics – including serious injuries from a car accident – and a surprisingly strong opponent, badminton’s comeback kid Momota was expected to win the match. In the first game, he struggled to keep his head above water, being overwhelmed as Heo smashed him with sharply angled smashes and was unable to hit back with his own moves.
Momota has struggled to reach Tokyo 2020 amidst numerous personal and professional obstacles, including contracting COVID-19. Nippon Badminton Association banned him months before the 2016 Rio Games due to his involvement in an illegal gambling scandal. Back then he was the second-ranked player in the world and after his suspension from the league tables, he was ranked 282nd by the time he returned to play in 2017. His unbeaten streak of 39 matches helped him claw his way back to the top.
In early 2020, however, Momota’s Olympic dreams were crushed when he was in a car accident, which killed the driver and damaged his sight among other injuries. The Japanese tennis player regained his fitness during the pandemic, making a comeback in March at the All-England Open to raise his nation’s hopes for Olympic gold.