Samoan athlete holds onto Tokyo dreams despite pandemic Samoan athlete holds onto Tokyo dreams despite pandemic

Samoan athlete holds onto Tokyo dreams despite pandemic

    NHK World
    For most of his life, Samoan judoka Peniamina Percival has been motivated by one goal: representing his country at the Olympics. Two years ago, with his sights set on the Tokyo Games, he decided to move to Japan and hone his skills in judo's homeland. Since then, he has overcome challenges, both on and off the mat, to turn his Olympic dreams into reality.

    The 26-year-old, who has been practicing judo for half his life, knew he would need a higher level of training if he wanted to compete seriously on the world stage. In the spring of 2019, he landed in Japan and joined a dojo in Osaka. He found the experience to be everything he had hoped for and says he started improving immediately.

    Percival trains with his mate at his dojo
    Percival says that even at small, local dojos in Japan, the level of judo is high and the practice has made him stronger.

    But then the COVID-19 pandemic reached Japan. The government declared a state of emergency for Osaka and the dojo was forced to close.

    When it reopened three months later, close-contact techniques were banned. For a discipline like judo, this was a prohibitive measure. And travel restrictions meant that many international events were canceled, and the ones that went ahead would have required extended quarantine periods, which was beyond his means. The last time Percival tested himself in overseas competition was February 2020.

    The postponement of the Olympics last March created yet another hurdle for Percival: he suddenly needed to come up with another year's worth of funding. But despite the tough circumstances, he says he never considered throwing in the towel and going home. "Even though it's difficult, living in Japan, training in the country had always been my dream, so I wouldn't give it up," he says.

    In fact, the decision to move to Japan is the only reason his Olympic dreams are still alive. Three weeks ago, Samoa's government announced that it would not be sending a delegation to the Games. The local Olympic committee later clarified that athletes already living overseas would be allowed to compete.

    The small island nation — with a population around 200,000 — has registered only three cases of the coronavirus to date, and no deaths.

    Percival says he feels fortunate that he can still take part, but he realizes that many people in the host country have different feelings about the Games.

    "Of course, this is a very risky time to be having the Olympics," he says. "I fully understand the complaints and the worries of the Japanese people. But I know it's also the dream of all athletes to compete. I just hope that this Olympics can be something that's safe, and also a sign of unity, bringing the world together to do what we love, which is sports."

    Percival teaches children once a week and says they keep him motivated.
    Watch Video 03:56

    And after more than two years in Japan, he feels he will be representing more than his country at the Games. He says support from the dojo helped keep him going, even through the bleakest moments, and he now wants to do them proud, too.

    "Going to the Olympics is the biggest thing in my life," he says. "Not only is it the world's biggest sporting competition, but I've got the whole country behind me, and all of my judo family."

    Percival's first match will be at the Nippon Budokan on July 27.

    dojo under the elevated railway, and sign of celebration
    Percival's dojo in Osaka celebrates his success with a sign: "Congratulations on your Olympic participation, Team Samoa, Peniamina Percival."
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