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Volleyball - 23. August 2013.

Japan have what it takes to be No. 1 this year - Takeshita

Japan made an excellent start to their 2013 World Grand Prix campaign. And as the city of Sapporo gets ready to host the Finals, the Olympic bronze medalists hope to make the home crowd proud by winning a place on the podium for the first time ever. Former star player Yoshie Takeshita looks back on Japan’s excellent performance so far and assesses the team’s chances of taking the title this year.

“I was very pleased with the level at which Japan performed in the preliminary round of this year’s World Grand Prix and the team has set the standard high for themselves. They won their first six matches in the tournament, eventually ending the preliminary round securing seven wins in nine matches. And it was not an easy task as Japan faced some strong competition over the three weeks.

"But Japan’s achievements this season come as no surprise.

"Japan has a good set of players this year, including three Olympians from last year’s bronze medal team in London in the form of Saori Kimura, Yukiko Ebata, Risa Shinnabe. The richness of their experience has been vital in helping the younger players get comfortable on the court and a get a handle on the pressures of high level competition.

"Although the new team started playing together only last spring, they have shown a remarkable willingness to communicate and work together. In my opinion this is the key quality of the team and one of the main reasons they have succeeded in spite of not having too much time to prepare for the World Grand Prix. I know that this will help each player to put forward their best performance for the greater good of the team.

"Importantly, the women have coach Masayoshi Manabe leading the way. And the assistant coaches, therapists, analysts and other expert staff have all the requisite know-how to help the team succeed. And they work well together to ensure that the team plays a powerful and intelligent game. The players also receive a great of support from their entourage and I am more convinced than ever that Japan have what it takes to be number one this year.

"But if the preliminary round has taught the Japanese team anything, it is that they cannot let down their guard. Now, more than ever, it is important that the team learn from the mistakes made over the three weeks of matches in order to improve their game. This will be the only way they can head off the challenge from the other five teams in the Finals.

"Is it difficult to watch the action from the sidelines this year?

"My decision to retire from the sport after the Olympic Games in London was the right one for me as it has allowed more time for my family.  Also it was necessary to make place for the younger generation. I had my turn and as with all professional volleyball players, we know the time to leave will come eventually.

"This is not to say that I have stepped out of the sport completely. As a player one of my aims was to send a strong message to the young boys and girls of Japan that anything is possible with determination and perseverance – even if you are well below the height of the average volleyball player! I now try to instill this message in the children who I teach at the volleyball clinics. I am also a TV commentator, which ensures that I am still up to speed with all the happenings on the court.

"After winning the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, I said that my generation of players did not really feel the honour of the bronze medal that Japan won at t"he 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. To be back on the podium in London after such a long time was an achievement for the Japanese volleyball family and I do hope that we can continue this trend by winning a medal on home ground in the 2013 World Grand Prix."

Yoshie Takeshita is a former volleyball player from Japan who played for the national women’s team and the JT Marvelous Club. She was on the national team that took part in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, helping Japan to a bronze medal in London last year. At 159 centimetres, Takeshita has earned the title of the ‘World's Smallest and Strongest Setter’ and was Japan’s number one setter during her career on the national team. She was the captain of the Japanese volleyball team during the 2006 World Championship where she took the Most Valuable Player award. She was also helped her team to a bronze medal in the 2010 World Championships. Takeshita announced her retirement from professional volleyball on July 26, 2013.
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