International Left-handers Day: Athletes vying for Tokyo 2020

Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic plays a backhand during her Women's Singles Quarter-final match against Ashleigh Barty of Australia at the 2020 Australian Open (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic plays a backhand during her Women's Singles Quarter-final match against Ashleigh Barty of Australia at the 2020 Australian Open (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

In sports, there's no shortage of left-handed athletes who excel in their field - and often it's their skill with their left hand that gives them an advantage over their opponents.

Today, Thursday 13 August, is International Left-handers Day!

To celebrate, Tokyo 2020 looks at a few left-handed athletes who may have the upper hand at next year's Olympic Games.

Left-handed athletes vying for Tokyo 2020

Petra Kvitova

The world no. 12 is known for her powerful left hand in the tennis world, but her career could have come to a shuddering halt in December 2016 when the then 26-year-old suffered injuries to her left hand when an intruder entered her home.

After four hours of surgery, Kvitova was able to move her fingers again. She said it was "the greatest Christmas present I could have wished for".

Remarkably, just over two years later, she stunned the world with an incredible comeback and reached the final of the 2019 Australian Open.

The 30-year-old appeared in the Qatar Open final before COVID-19 shut down competitions across the world. Since restrictions in Czech Republic began to be lifted, Kvitova has been back training and playing in local tournaments.

Mariel Zagunis

American fencer Mariel Zagunis has produced plenty of historic Olympic moments with her left hand - first in Athens 2004 when she became the first female American to win fencing gold, and again in Beijing 2008 where she repeated the feat and also clinched medals in the team events.

Her left-handed moves, which she has developed through years of relentless work, will be seen again at next year's Tokyo 2020, which will be her fifth appearance at an Olympic Games.

"Gold in Tokyo is the goal," she said in a recent interview with the International Fencing Federation.

DING Ning

Captain of the People's Republic of China women's table tennis team, Ding Ning is known as the “Queen of Hearts”.

The three-time world champion, holder of three Women's World Cup titles - where she has a 100 per cent win ratio - and gold medallist at Rio 2016, she has truly won it all.

However following the postponement of the Olympics, Ding will need to be at the top of her game for another 12 months in order to make the team for Tokyo 2020.

Head coach of the women's national team Li Sun told Xinhua: "The Tokyo Olympics postponement has affected everyone's preparation, we have trained for five months, which had a huge impact on our veterans."

Melvyn Richardson

Son of France's biggest handball star Jackson Richardson, Melyvn Richardson is making a name for himself and his charting his own path.

While his father was known for his defensive skills, the 23-year-old athlete is known for his attack and strong left-handed throws. The French handball player also guided the Montpellier team - one of the best teams in French handball - to win both the European and national titles in 2019.

He will likely bring his left-hand hammer goals to Tokyo 2020 next year, once the French team qualify for the Games.

Tijana Boskovic

The left-hand opposite spiker is considered one of the best players in women's volleyball. The 23-year-old holds back-to-back European Championship titles and was part of Serbia's team that won gold at the 2018 World Championships.

After the Turkish League - where she plays club-level volleyball - suspended its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been self-isolating at her home in Bileca, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“I have a lot of free time, more than I have ever had in the last ten years,” she told the national federation of Serbia in an online interview in April. "I try to make the most of my days here."

Best from the home nation

It's not just global athletes that are famous for their left hands but also those who will represent the host nation of Japan at next year's Olympic Games.

Here are just a few:

MOMOTA Kento

Momota Kento is the 2018 and 2019 Badminton World Champion and has been ranked No. 1 in the men's singles since September 2018.

With this in mind, there is a heap of expectation for the athlete to win gold at a home Olympics - despite a recent accident.

"I had a traffic accident in Malaysia and broke the floor of the right track, but now I am recovering and practising for my dream stage," he said.

Momota Kento of Japan hits a shot against Shi Yuqi of China in the men's singles final on day 7 of Total BWF World Championships at Nanjing Youth Olympic Games Sport Park on August 5, 2018 in Nanjing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Momota Kento of Japan hits a shot against Shi Yuqi of China in the men's singles final on day 7 of Total BWF World Championships at Nanjing Youth Olympic Games Sport Park on August 5, 2018 in Nanjing, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
2018 Getty Images

MINOBE Kazuyasu

During the 2018-2019 season, Minobe Kazuyasu won two FIE Grand Prix titles along with the individual World Cup. His performance during the season saw him reach world no.1 in the 2018-19 Épée World Ranking.

At Tokyo 2020, he is aiming to win medals in both the individual épée and team épée events.

Kazuyasu Minobe of Japan reacts during a match against Marco Fichera of Italy during the Men's Epee Individual at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Kazuyasu Minobe of Japan reacts during a match against Marco Fichera of Italy during the Men's Epee Individual at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

MIZUTANI Jun, NIWA Koki and ISHIKAWA Kasumi

Mizutani won Japan's first Olympic table tennis medal - bronze - at the Rio 2016 Games. In the team event, he played alongside Niwa and went on to win silver.

Ishikawa is a member of the women's team that won two silver medals at London 2012 and bronze at Rio 2016. Japan has never won an Olympic medal in the women's singles event, but with a home Games on the horizon, there is growing expectation this record will soon come to an end!

Zhengzhou, 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals Women's Singles 1/8 finals , Olympic Sport Center, Zhengzhou 2019/12/12.
Zhengzhou, 2019 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals Women's Singles 1/8 finals , Olympic Sport Center, Zhengzhou 2019/12/12.
(c)ITTF

YAMADA Eri

Left-handed captain Yamada Eri was part of the Beijing 2008 gold medal winning side and will once again be part of softball's revival at Tokyo 2020.

Meanwhile, veteran pitcher OZAKI Nozomi and 19-year-old novice GOTO Miu, who will make their Olympic debuts at Tokyo, are also left-handers.

Japan's aim is still the same as it was 12-years ago at Beijing 2008: to win gold.

(L-R) Mabuchi Satoko #25 of and Yamada Eri #11 of Japan celebrate their 3-1 win against the United States during the women's softball gold medal match during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
(L-R) Mabuchi Satoko #25 of and Yamada Eri #11 of Japan celebrate their 3-1 win against the United States during the women's softball gold medal match during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
2008 Getty Images