Tokyo, Japan, May 16, 2016 - Japan and their fans have been celebrating Erika Araki’s brilliant comeback to international volleyball at the Women’s Olympic Qualification Tournament.
On May 14, Japan opened their Rio 2016 Qualifier with the match against Peru. At the beginning of the match, Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium was filled with indescribable tenseness. But Araki broke this oppressive atmosphere with her dynamic spikes and blocks. Her young teammates were motivated by Araki’s play and were revived. With the great support of a full house, Japan swept Peru by 3-0 (25-23, 25-10, 25-14).
In the four years after the great experience of the 2012 London Olympics, Araki has come back where she should be. At the beginning of this season, Araki said that even during the period she was away from the national team, she has been supportive of the team and its players, especially Saori Kimura, who inherited Japan’s “captain mark” from Araki.
“I decided to be back to this team because I want to support and encourage Saori,” Araki said.
“In the last three years, she has been captain and a key player of Japan as well. I’ve seen her effort and hard work from outside the court.
“I will try to keep the same mind and ‘temperature’ with her and work so hard to lead Japan to Rio de Janeiro”.
During her nearly four years away from the team, Araki has become a mother and her life is extremely changed. However, in the last two matches, she showed the same spirit and powerful performances that has made her one of Japan’s most popular players.
Four years ago she was the captain of the bronze medal winning team at the London Olympics. Her joy at being back in the team was apparent in her post-match interviews after Saturday’s win against Peru.
“I was nervous at the beginning,” she said.
“To wear this uniform again and stand on the court, I have great joy.”
Head coach Masayoshi Manabe was obviously happy to have Araki back.
“Araki’s defense is very nice,” he said.
“Her performance brings ‘invisible points’ for our team. She embodies her spirit on the match court of World Olympic Qualification.”
Japan will look to continue its unbeaten run when it takes on Asian rivals Korea on Tuesday night.