The Yomiuri Shimbun Ano Kuwai’s fate took a sharp turn in pursuit of her Olympic dream — switching from discus throwing to rugby.
The 26-year-old has become a core member of the Japan women’s rugby sevens team, which will make its Olympic debut at the Rio de Janeiro Games. The team is nicknamed “Sakura Sevens,” after the nation’s beloved cherry blossoms.
Kuwai expressed her ambition at a send-off ceremony in her hometown of Makubetsu, Hokkaido, on July 12, saying, “Next time I’m here, I want to report that I won a medal.”
Kuwai worked hard on the discus at Hokkaido Obihiro Agricultural High School, finishing fifth at a national high school meet in her second year. She entered Chukyo University in Nagoya as a discus prospect, but could not improve her performance.
One day, she had an opportunity to play rugby in a class. That was the first time Kuwai felt the joy of running on the field with a ball.
At the time, officials of the Japan Rugby Football Union were working hard to recruit female players from other sports, as rugby sevens had become an official event at Rio. They soon spotted Kuwai and noticed her potential. Kuwai is blessed in her frame — 171 centimeters tall — as well as her running skills. In addition to her experience at the discus, she took part in middle-distance races and the long jump during middle school.
Kuwai made up her mind and told her mother of her determination, saying: “I’m going to switch to women’s rugby. I want to make it to the Olympics.”
After graduating from university, Kuwai focused on playing rugby. She helped the Sakura Sevens win a spot at Rio last year.
Now she belongs to a rugby club in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, while working at a local department store.