The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

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The culmination of 13 years of water polo
Taking the silver medal at the Asian University Water Polo Championship!

Yumi Kojo

A number of dramas unfolded at the 17th Asian Games held in Incheon, South Korea this autumn. The effort of the Japanese women’s water polo team, who took silver despite appearing at the Games for the first time, was one of these. Yumi Kojo, captain of the Waseda University Water Polo Club women’s team and one of Japan’s representatives at the Games, is proud of this achievement.

“Even though the Japanese women’s water polo team had never achieved a medal in an international competition, I believed we had a world-class team.”

Before the Games, the Japan Swimming Federation established different goals for the men’s and women’s teams, with the men to aim for gold and the women to aim for any medal at all. Although perhaps meant to avoid putting on undue pressure, the women athletes could feel how low expectations were for them.

“Using that bitterness as a spring board, we faced the games as a single, unified team under the feeling that we were definitely going to take the gold. I feel this is what led to our achievement at the event.”

In water polo, the players tread water while manipulating a ball one-handed (using both hands is a foul)

In water polo, teams composed of seven members each compete for points in a special competition pool. It is an intense sport modeled on hand-to-hand combat in water. Kojo has spent more than half her life in this harsh world, and she has the unshakeable confidence to show for it.

“I began learning water polo together with my older sister starting in third grade, so I’ve been playing for 13 years. I really began to get serious about it from high school. At a national competition I appeared in when I was in my second year in junior high school, I was scouted by the coach from Fujimura Girls’ Senior High School, which is a veteran water polo school.”

Her extracurricular water polo activities in high school were, in a word, hard. Under the unsparing guidance of her coach, Kojo daily swam two kilometers and engaged in strength training such as squats and bench presses, in addition to polishing her tactics and shooting.

Kojo fully displayed the abilities forged through this training in her second year of high school. Selected to be a junior Japan representative in water polo, her team won first place at the Asia Swimming Federation championship held between representatives from four countries. Stirred by this show of ability, she was scouted by several universities, but chose Waseda University, the same school her older sister Himi went to. However, she would be bewildered by the differences in the competition environment compared with high school.

“The women’s team in the Waseda University Water Polo Club was only started in 2010. As a university team without a coach, it was all trial and error, and the team continued to fail to place in competitions.”

Two events helped the anguished Kojo get back on track. First, she was selected in her second year of university to be one of Japan’s women representatives for water polo at the Asian Games. Playing at a global level awakened Kojo’s awareness to the fact that she was an international athlete, and she began redoubling her training. Second, a veteran of the Waseda Water Polo Club assumed office as coach for the women’s team, encouraging Kojo.

Under the new coach, teamwork which harnessed the individual abilities of the club members was created, and with this change came results. Having placed fifth in their first appearance at the 2010 intercollegiate championships, they rose in position each year, and although the team let first place get away this year by just one point, they have placed second two years running. And the efforts of Kojo, who has helped the team achieve these victories, bore fruit in the form of a silver medal at the Asian Games.

Having achieved a measure of success, Kojo is taking time off from competing just for this year. “I want my juniors in the club to achieve the victory in the intercollegiate championships I was unable to.” From next year on, this rare ace of the Water Polo Club women’s team will, as an alumnus, be anxiously awaiting the day her dream since entering the club is achieved.

Yumi with her older sister Himi (left), who served as captain in 2013.

The women members of the Waseda University Water Polo Club, runner ups two years running in the intercollegiate water polo championships in the fifth year since its establishment.

The team is all smiles as they stand on the award podium at the Asian University Water Polo Championship. They took silver despite appearing at the Games for the first time.


Yumi Kojo
Fourth Year, School of Sport Sciences

Originally from Hyogo, Yumi Kojo graduated from Fujimura Girls’ Senior High School. She has made numerous achievements, such as placing sixth as part of the Japan women’s water polo team in the 2013 Universiad and second in the 2014 Asian University Water Polo Championship. Her ideal day off is to spend time eating with friends and watching DVDs.