MANILA, Philippines -- The head of the country's judo federation believes Fil-Japanese judoka Kiyomi Watanabe may pull off some surprises when she competes in the Tokyo Olympics next month.
The 24-year-old Watanabe, who was born in Cebu, is ranked 41st in the -63kg division and qualified to the Games via continental quota.
While she has plenty of tough competition in her weight category -- including Asian Games rival Nabekura Nami of Japan, ranked fifth in the division -- Watanabe is capable of going all the way to the medal rounds.
This, according to Philippine Judo Federation (PJF) president Dave Carter.
"Lahat po posible," Carter said during the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum on Tuesday, when asked of Watanabe's medal chances.
"Mahirap naman po pagka sinabi natin ngayon na hindi kaya ni Kiyomi, tapos eh sorpresahin po tayo niyan pagdating doon," he added. "Hindi po natin nililimitahan itong kakayahan nitong ating manlalaro. Dahil malakas po itong player natin na ito, pati po 'yung puso niyan, talagang fighter po ito."
Carter's optimism stems from Watanabe's performance in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, where she defeated highly-rated judokas en route to the gold medal match. She bowed to Nabekura in the final, settling for the silver medal.
Watanabe has also been dominant at the Southeast Asian Games, where she has won four gold medals.
According to Carter, Watanabe is confident that she can keep in step with her rivals in Asia but is more wary of the judokas from Europe.
"Andiyan po 'yung France, 'yung frequent title-holder, at saka po 'yung sa Slovenia, and German. 'Yun po 'yung mga dapat ingatan ni Kiyomi," said Carter, likely referring to top-ranked Clarisse Agbegnenou of France and the Slovenian pair of Tina Trstenjak and Andreja Leski, as well as Germany's Martyna Trajdos.
"Pero dito pa sa Asia, hindi po siya natatakot na makaharap po 'yang mga 'yan, dahil po kayang-kaya po ni Kiyomi 'yan," he assured.
Watanabe is currently training with her sensei, former Asian Games gold medalist Yazaki Yuta, at the Waseda University in Japan. They did high-altitude training at the Yamanashi Prefecture over the weekend as well.
While he is confident that Watanabe has a shot at a medal, Carter said it will be crucial for her to stay focused and unbothered by pressure.
"'Yung coaches niya, pinapalayo siya sa pressure. Dahil po, of course, a lot of people want to interview with her. Eh, medyo ano po eh, alam niyo naman, medyo shy 'tong si Kiyomi," Carter explained. "At the same time, ang style po kasi sa kanya, pagka lalo siya nape-pressure, parang naapektuhan 'yung game niya."
"Mas maganda kung iniisip niya, lalaro lang siya para sa bayan. Ganoon lang. Hindi na kailangan 'yung, 'Kiyomi, maggo-gold ka ba?' So if there are a lot of pressures, hindi naman pare-pareho ang epekto sa bawat manlalaro," he added.
The judo competition in the Olympics starts on July 24, with Watanabe opening her campaign on July 27.
According to Carter, she will need to win three matches in pool play to advance to the quarterfinals, which will be a single-elimination affair.