“Happy man siyadirikayPilipina man gyudkunosiya (She’s happy here because she says she’s Filipino),” said Kiyomi’s mother, Irene, during an interview at the Cebu Capitol on Dec. 26.
Irene, a native of Toledo City, now lives in Mandaue City. She added that the less stressful and happier environment helped Kiyomi develop her craft further. In Japan, she said that judokas in training are very serious and have no time to even smile.
The 17-year-old Watanabe, who started judo as a fifth-grader, was one of the gold medalists in the recently-concluded 27th Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar. She won in the 63-kilogram category.
Gov. Hilario P. Davide III congratulated Watanabe on her victory. Davide wished her good luck in future competitions during a courtesy call arranged by Provincial Board-Member ThadeoOuano.
Kiyomi is training to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, hoping to capture the Philippines’ first Olympic gold medal in judo.
Based in Japan with her family, she speaks very little English and Cebuano. She was born in Cebu City and was enrolled as a grade-four pupil at the Labogon Elementary School for six months while waiting to travel to Japan.
Her mother said she’s very happy with her daughter’s feat, particularly her decision to represent the Philippines. She recalled that Kiyomi was given three months by her father to decide whether to represent Japan or the Philippines.
The offer to join Japan’s national judo team, Irene said, still stands until Kiyomi reaches 20 years of age.
If Kiyomi joins the Japanese team she needs to sit it out for three years. Japan disallows players from the national team if they’ve already earned points for another country. She first represented the Philippines in the 26th SEA Games in 2011 where she won a bronze medal.
Vicente Fernandez II, executive vice-president of the Philippine Judo Federation, said he learned of Kiyomi through her mother. He recalled that several years back, he solicited support for the national team on Facebook for a tournament in Bangkok, Thailand.
“Kiyomi’s mother responded,” said Fernandez, who was with the Watanabes at the Capitol. “That’s when I learned about Kiyomi, that she was being groomed to be part of the Japanese national team.”
He said he met the Watanabes when he headed a delegation for a tournament in Tokyo. When the Philippine coaches saw Kiyomi, they prodded him to convince her to join the Philippine team.
Kiyomi also won a bronze in the Asian Youth and Juniors judo tournament in Beijing in 2012. It qualified her to take part in the world youth Olympics in Beijing in 2014. Xerxes Alkuino