Badminton World No.1 MOMOTA Kento is talking gold at home Olympics again after recovery from fatal accident and surgery
The Olympic dream is still alive for Japan's superstar shuttler MOMOTA Kento.
Involved in an accident in January in which the driver of the vehicle lost his life, MOMOTA needed surgery in February for an eye socket fracture and has just opened up to reporters in Tokyo about why he almost quit the sport altogether.
"At the time I thought of giving it all up," said the 25-year-old.
"After my accident I couldn't move at all, and I was striving to recover my fitness. Then the eye issue occurred and I was grappling with whether to have surgery or not."
My spirit was almost broken
But words of love and support from friends, family and fans motivated him to go on and to retrain his sights on a gold medal at his home Games at Tokyo 2020.
"Thanks to the words of encouragement I received, I want to aim to win a gold medal," he said.
Still badminton's World No.1 despite being out of action since January, MOMOTA has not set a date for his return, which is expected to be some time in May.
Hours after winning the Malaysia Masters on 13 January, the van which was taking MOMOTA to Kuala Lumpur airport crashed into the back of a truck.
The driver was killed, and two Japanese team officials were also injured.
Japan's double reigning world champ suffered facial injuries in the accident, including skin lacerations and bone fractures.
"It's an absolute miracle for him to be in one piece after a crash like that," Nippon Badminton Association secretary-general ZENIYA Kinji said later.
Originally believing he'd be out for two months, MOMOTA later learned that he would require surgery for an eye socket fracture in February.
Asked if he had been worried that he might never play again, he said: "I thought about it. How long will it take?"
"There were times when my spirit was almost broken."
Back in training at the start of February, MOMOTA's hopes of a comeback at March's All England Open in Birmingham were dashed by an eye socket fracture that left him with double vision.
After successful surgery, MOMOTA is back to doing what he does best and is dreaming big once more.
He said he is thrilled that his vision is as good as ever, and has been back in training with his club (NTT East) since 29 February.
"I have never been away from badminton for so long. I am very much enjoying hitting shuttlecocks. I'm having very fulfilling practices again," he said.
Slowly his strength and range of movement is returning.
"I feel I am regaining the sharpness of my body and movements."
But when will he return to competition?
Return to competition
The reigning world champ remained cautious when asked about a return date.
"Frankly speaking, I can't play at all right now," he said.
"I can't look far beyond that first goal of being able to compete in games."
"Of course, the Tokyo Olympics is on my mind," he said, but wants to make his return at the right moment.
"The issue I have to tackle now is that whenever I'm on the court, I want to get into the action. I have to make sure I take it easy."
"If I rush and overdo it, I risk injury and being unable to play. I want to have a little more margin for error. I want to come back stronger than ever. I want to work harder than I ever have."
MOMOTA could return for the Thomas & Uber Cup, badminton's World Team Championships, in Aarhus, Denmark, in the middle of May.
But a more realistic target may be the Super 500 Thailand Open in early June.
It is a race against time for Tokyo 2020 which begins on 25 July, just a day after the Opening Ceremony.
2019 Getty Images
Still favourite for Olympic gold?
MOMOTA still has a very good chance of winning Olympic gold on home soil at Tokyo 2020.
He has been top of the BWF World Rankings since September 2018, and even after the accident and surgery remains at No.1.
In the form of his life before the accident, a record 11 BWF titles in 2019 had him as clear Olympic favourite, he won the BWF World Tour Finals and is the two-time defending world champion.
But Tokyo will be his Olympic debut if he makes it, and it remains to be seen if the accident and surgery have taken a big toll on his health and form.
It'll be all eyes on MOMOTA when he does step back on a competitive court.
Set to compete at Rio 2016 when he was 21, his hopes were ended in Brazil when he received a one-year suspension from the Nippon Badminton Association for visiting an illegal casino in Tokyo.
The same city could become the scene of the defining moment in his career.
By the Olympic Channel