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[ODDS and EVENS] World Champion Haruka Kitaguchi Targets Olympic Gold

Not satisfied with merely winning, popular javelin thrower Haruka Kitaguchi is focused on making improvements as she prepares for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

By all indications, reigning women's javelin world champion Haruka Kitaguchi should be considered the favorite to win the gold medal at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Kitaguchi has entered three competitions in the spring outdoor season, and she's walked away as the winner all three times.

In the 26-year-old's latest outing, she participated in the Seiko Golden Grand Prix on Sunday, May 19 at National Stadium in Tokyo, where the pandemic-delayed 2020 Olympics were held. It's also where the 2025 World Athletics Championships will take place.

On Sunday, Kitaguchi's flair for making a big throw at the biggest moment of a competition was on display.

She delivered an event-best throw of 63.45 meters on her final attempt, surpassing Colombia's Flor Denis Ruiz Hurtado (62.06) to seal the victory.

For Kitaguchi, that throw provided affirmation that her preparations for the Paris Olympics are going well.


"I've been able to work on my physical conditioning for the past two weeks and it feels like I'm starting to get back into shape," Kitaguchi was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse at the Tokyo meet.

Success in 2024 for Haruka Kitaguchi

Before appearing at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix, the Hokkaido Prefecture native triumphed at the Yangtze Delta Athletics Diamond Gala in Suzhou, China, on April 27. On her best throw of the day, Kitaguchi's javelin flew 62.97 meters.

She returned to competition on May 5 in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, and proved that her win in China wasn't a fluke.

In 2024, Kitaguchi is as confident in her ability and as polished in her throwing mechanics as she was during a string of successes in 2023.

At the Mito Invitational, Kitaguchi again finished on top of the leaderboard with the day's best throw of 61.83 meters.

Not satisfied just to win, Kitaguchi is always striving for better results, farther throws. And that hunger to keep improving is another indication that her success in the biggest of big events of 2023 wasn't a flash-in-the-pan occurrence.

For example, how did Kitaguchi assess performance at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix?

"I'm happy that I won in the end but I would have liked to have thrown 63 [meters] a little earlier," she said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Kitaguchi catapulted from second place to first with her event-best throw. It was late drama for the popular, effervescent athlete.

Haruka Kitaguchi
With a friendly smile and an upbeat personality, Haruka Kitaguchi has endeared herself to fans. (©SANKEI)

Rising to the Top

Kitaguchi participated in the Tokyo Olympics, placing 12th overall (55.42 meters). At that stage of her career, she had not yet achieved the type of results that would define her true breakthrough year of 2023, when she entered a combined 16 domestic and global competitions and won 11 of them. Kitaguchi also had three runner-up finishes in a sensational season.

In 2023, she also rewrote her personal-best mark in the javelin throw (67.38 meters) at the Memorial Van Damme meet in Brussels on September 8. It was the best throw of the year for a female javelin thrower in the world.

Clearly, though, the delayed-Olympic year of 2021 gave Kitaguchi an important measuring stick for where she was in the global pecking order ― nowhere near the top yet.

But by earning a bronze medal at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, Kitaguchi proved that she had officially arrived as a major talent in the sport and someone to pay attention to.

 
Better throws and more consistency have been hallmarks of her career over the past couple years. For Kitaguchi, a top throw of 55.42 was recorded on the results sheet at the Olympics. Fast forward to 2022 and she nabbed bronze in Oregon with a 63.27-meter effort. That was a significant improvement.

Faith in her ability as an athlete was another important part of her transformation into an elite-level javelin thrower.

Kitaguchi spoke about this after winning her first world title. In the Hungarian capital, she told reporters: "Last year my goal was just to get into the final. This time my goal was gold."

Haruka Kitaguchi
Haruka Kitaguchi is the reigning world champion in the women's javelin. (©SANKEI)

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Getting Ready for the Olympics

There's less than three months now until the biggest day on the 2024 calendar for Kitaguchi. The Olympic women's javelin final is set for August 10 in Paris.

After experiencing the thrill of winning a world title, adding an Olympic title to her CV is next on Kitaguchi's list of objectives.

To achieve her goal, Kitaguchi insisted that she needs to make marked improvement in the weeks ahead. Practice sessions and meets will give her tangible evidence if she's making proper progress.

On the day of her third win in as many meets in 2024, Kitaguchi underscored the sense of urgency she feels in getting ready for the Olympics.

"I don't think my throws today would be good enough to win me a medal [at the Paris Games]," Kitaguchi said at National Stadium, Agence France-Press reported. "But I want to prepare over the next two or three weeks so that I'm able to get one."

Recent history suggests that Kitaguchi is correct about how far she'll need to throw her javelin to win a medal in the French capital. Exhibit A: In the Tokyo 2020 javelin final, bronze medalist Kelsey-Lee Roberts of Australia placed third with a toss of 64.56. More data supports her premise, with the Czech Republic's Barbora Spotakova claiming the bronze at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games with a throw of 64.8.

Haruka Kitaguchi
Haruka Kitaguchi (©SANKEI)

Successful Execution of the Javelin Throw

In official women's competitions, as defined by World Athletics rules, a javelin must have a minimum weight of 600 grams and measure 2.2-2.3 meters in length. The high-energy process of running and releasing the pole to produce optimal results is a spectacle to behold.

And Kitaguchi has specific goals in mind, as she analyzed how she performed at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix.

"On the last two throws, I was able to raise the javelin relatively high by utilizing my flexibility, which is one of my strengths," Kitaguchi was quoted as saying by NHK.

There are other specific aspects of the event she feels can improve.

"I'd like to increase the speed of my running start, but I'll have to make some adjustments," Kitaguchi said, according to the Japanese broadcaster.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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