The end to the decades-long drought for Japanese handball may hinge on the youngest member of the women's national team.
Yumiko Yamano, 23, joined Sony Semiconductor Corp. last spring and was selected to represent Japan, thanks to her powerful left-handed shoots made after throwing off the opponent’s defense. In her debut match as a member of Team Japan against South Korea in April last year, Yamano led all Japanese players with five goals.
Her position is the “45-degree shooter,” the engine of the offense. Her left-handedness makes her unusual and even more special to the team.
She also has a bold and positive attitude that fuels her motivation. “When I first joined the company, my goal was to make the national team. But now, I definitely want to go to the Olympics,” Yamano says.
Yamano began playing handball in junior high school after her senior classmates from elementary school talked her into it. After she proved valuable to her team in a game in autumn of her first year, she began to really enjoy the sport.
“The interesting sport became my favorite sport,” she says.
Yamano went on to handball strongholds in high school and college, serving as a major force on each of her teams. She continued to impress after graduating from college. In her first year with the corporate league, Yamano scored 109 goals, the second highest in the league.
She also led the league with 35 goals with 7-meter throws. It came as no surprise when she was named Rookie of the Year.
But Team Japan lost its first chance for a berth in the London Olympics when it placed second at the Asian qualifiers. Yamano only played in one match and sat on the bench the rest of the time due to an injury on her right ankle.
She went to the World Championships in December 2011 with hopes of making up for her lack of contribution during the Olympic qualifiers, and she scored at crucial moments. Although Japan lost in the final tournament, it was defeated by only one point to Denmark, which made the top four.
This gave rival teams the impression that Japan should not be underestimated.
Team Japan’s last chance to appear in London is the final Olympic qualifiers to be held in France in May.
“The team expects me to shoot a lot. I will do my best,” Yamano says.
A Japanese handball team last qualified for the Olympics 36 years ago.
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