Wrestler struggling to step out of the shadow of an accomplished mother

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When your mom is a former two-time world wrestling champion and you decide to follow her path, painfully high expectations are bound to happen.

Such is the predicament of Japan’s Taishi Narikuni as he faces pressure to match or better the success his mother Akiko achieved with four world championship medals, including back-to-back 65 kilogram golds. in 1990 and 1991 and five national championships.

“I also want to become world champion,” Narikuni said.

In April, the 24-year-old came from behind to win the men’s 70kg freestyle, a non-Olympic weight class, at the 2022 Asian Wrestling Championships in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, beating the silver medalist and U23 champion Ernazar Akmataliev of Kyrgyzstan 4-3 in the final.

Japan’s Taishi Narikuni (R) competes at the Asian Wrestling Championships in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in April 2022.

(Photo courtesy of United World Wrestling) (Kyodo)

But Narikuni thinks he took advantage of being an unknown, saying a continental title doesn’t amount to much.

“I’m not a big name and my opponents haven’t bothered to research me. I haven’t done anything worth talking about,” he said.

The naturally athletic Narikuni showed signs of future stardom as a junior wrestler, but in November 2017, while a student at Aoyama Gakuin University, he was suspended for 20 months for a doping violation due to of his negligence.

He tested positive for a doping test after prescription drugs contained a banned substance. The impact was devastating and cost him a chance to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics last year.

But Narikuni has returned to the mat and now wants to fight his way to ultimate success.

Taishi Narikuni waves the Japanese flag at the Asian Wrestling Championships in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in April 2022.

(Photo courtesy of United World Wrestling) (Kyodo)

He began coaching at his mother’s wrestling club in Tokyo, which trains children in the sport. His younger sister Kotone and his father Takahiro also play a role in the family business.

Working near a mother who is a former world champion, however, forced him to deal with the burdens he carries.

Narikuni said it was easy to get caught up in comparisons, explaining that he let the high expectations of his students’ parents affect his confidence as a coach.

“It was very difficult to be compared (to my mother). I felt a sense of inferiority for the first time,” he said.

Narikuni’s response was to end those comparisons by excelling in his chosen sport.

His immediate goal is to land a spot at the World Wrestling Championships, which will take place September 10-18 in Belgrade, Serbia. There, Narikuni seeks to recover her own material and make her family proud.

Narikuni is aware of the athletic blessings he received from his parents, but knows that his genes can only carry him so far.

“I have to raise my game. I will never be satisfied,” he said.


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