Momota nonotata: World number 1 from Japan knocked out in group stage

Kento Momota first came to prominence at the 2012 Junior World Championship as the home hero at Chiba, Japan. He would go the distance in a field which boasted of fellow Tokyo contender Viktor Axelsen. Dismissing a Korean 21-17, 21-8 in the semifinals, Momota would make the finals and go onto announce his arrival by being crowned champion beating the arch rival, a Chinese.

Revenge was served kimchee cold – on Wednesday at the Musashino Forest arena, when Momota’s Korean opponent, pickled in that defeat from 9 years ago, resurfaced in the Olympics draw, in the form of a 21-15, 21-19 nemesis. The Korean, his country’s only Men’s singles shuttler at Tokyo, Heo Kwang-Hee, dashed Japan’s biggest hope, groomed to shine in this Olympics from the moment the country won the hosting rights.

A champion from elementary high school right upto the double World Championships in 2018 and 2019 marked the 26-year-old as a Tokyo favourite.

Home hopes Naomi Osaka and gymnast Kohei Uchimura were upset earlier.

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The badminton shocker follows on the heels of a non-sport related gambling ban that saw Japan punish their big name on ethical grounds leading him to miss Rio Games. Momota would win a staggering 11 titles on the circuit in 2019 on his return. A freak pre-dawn car accident in Kuala Lumpur as Momota was headed to the airport, left the driver dead. Momota, extricated from the pileup, needed eye surgery last summer. Earlier this year, Momota tested positive for Covid at the airport, while headed to the first international meet on resumption.

The Japanese just couldn’t catch a break. And when Kwang-Hee, ranked 38, showed up opposite him, Momota couldn’t believe his luck when shuttles sprayed wide. At one moment in the match, when he realised the exit was imminent, he glazed over and appeared to go blank. Ghosts from 2012 glided in front of him. The ghost’s accreditation read Heo Kwang-Hee.

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