Kazuhiro Goya (age 26, nicknamed “Kevin”) is a half-Japanese, half-Filipino professional rugby player. He is unquestionably one of the best in Japan despite his small stature (170cm), whose sprinting ability is like no other.
Moreover, his ambition to play both fifteens and sevens is far from ordinary.
While a game of fifteens rugby – the form that is commonly played in Japan – is divided into 40-minute halves and only one game is assigned to each team per day, a games of sevens rugby is made up of 7-minute halves and a team may play 2 to 3 games a day with intervals of a few hours in between. To be a top athlete in these similar but different forms of sport is as exceptional as an athlete running both short-distance and long-distance on a national team, or a professional baseball player who plays the positions of both pitcher and fielder.
While physicality is vital to play fifteens in the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan, stamina and repeated sprint ability would be essential to play sevens in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Despite how key players of top contenders choose to focus on either fifteens or sevens, Goya will join the Japan Sevens while playing fifteens in the Top League.
“I keep my weight around 78kg to play fifteens because in the Top League, you need some weight in order to withstand tackles. But when I play sevens, I can run better when my weight is around 76kg. After the Top League season and before my sevens team begins practice, I’ll have to lose about 2kg. I’ll be running more so I’ll naturally lose weight that way, which means that I would have to control my diet to not lose more weight than necessary. Specifically, my carb intake would be carefully measured for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’d also eat a lot in the morning. The Japan Sevens has recruited a nutritionist this year, and I am glad to be receiving helpful tips to maintain my weight.”
Growing up in Ōnojō City, Fukuoka Prefecture, Goya loved playing all kinds of sports – especially rugby, which his father also played. He was only in third grade when he began playing junior rugby with his older brother, Akihiro.
At the time, Goya enjoyed playing basketball. “I had a hard time passing the ball with my left hand, which I improved through ball handling drills in basketball.” He got better at sprinting by running short distances in middle school, and at the same time practiced kicking balls by playing soccer for a brief period. Then, Goya moved from his hometown and enrolled into Kashiwa High School of Ryutsu Keizai University in Chiba Prefecture, with a dream to rise to the top in the world of rugby, a sport composed of many athletic components
Practice sessions in high school was nothing but tough, but this was when Goya was able to focus on building his muscular foundation. Although he only weighed around 65 and 66kg before entering high school, he weighed as much as 74 to 75 kg in just one year. He built his body to the level of his mature self by concentrating on his diet and training.
“My skills were good as I entered high school, but I was often times bumped off when I played defense. I felt that my performance wasn’t quite there in contact situations. So, I took our weight training sessions very seriously, which was held three times a week and something I’ve never done before. I looked at my seniors and was determined to build my body like them. With the help of our coach at the time, who was also mindful of the kind of meals we ate, my body was able to transform in one year.”
Goya gained publicity when he was selected to be on the national team during high school. As he naturally entered the Ryutsu Keizai University afterwards, he immediately became a regular player on the university’s rugby team, where he added more layers to his natural armor.
It was during his second offseason that a game-changing opportunity came to him. He happened to be attending a camp to obtain his driver’s license, where he also participated in the 12th Sevens Senior Academy (rugby training camp hosted by the Japan Rugby Football Union) of academic year 2013. Although Goya had little experience playing sevens, he was selected as a candidate to play for the national team.
At the time, Japan Sevens was led by head coach Tomohiro Segawa, who has had experience in leading Toshiba’s Brave Lupus to victory in the Top League. He believed that athletes should have “a fun and positive attitude, and the guts to do it when you have to.” Segawa instructed the players to boost their speed and stamina by giving them strenuous training routines, and at the same time held one-on-one meetings with each player, which greatly inspired and motivated Goya.
“Segawa-san would evaluate us by ranking each of our performances according to our positions. My confidence increased as my rankings got higher. He told me that I had a knack for playing defense, which was something I wasn’t aware of. He gave precise advices to all of us.”
Training under Segawa wasn’t easy. He would ruthlessly reproach players when tackles were avoided, and mercilessly pulled players off the field if they ever got cold feet.
None of it stopped Goya from keeping up, however. And through his continued efforts, he could see that he also gained more self-esteem. He realized that he was growing into a stronger player every time he played in the World Rugby Sevens Series.
“Every time I made a mistake, Segawa-san would remind me that that would never fly at the world level. And I am here now because of his coaching. When I first played against teams from other countries, I couldn’t perform how I wanted. A part of me was scared to play because of body size differences, and I was worried if I could get my mind in the game again. But over time, my body got used to it by being on the national team, and I just loved playing sevens the more I played. Segawa-san taught me that I can compete in the world if I just face it and do what I do best.”
Goya was one of the key players as the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro approached – the games when sevens became an official Olympic sport for the first time.
“Because I was also on the team when we became qualified to be in the Olympics, I definitely wanted to play in Rio 2016.”
As the Summer Games approached, a team of candidate players spent a total of 3 months training in camps in Okinawa, Hiroshima, Abashiri, Sapporo, Narita, Sydney, and Kagoshima. Instead of the overall tournament, the team set their target on winning their very first match – against New Zealand. Having to fight against one of the strongest contenders, the team became intensely focused. Goya recalled a joint practice session with Australia and how the players were told to pretend like they were fighting against New Zealand.
“We were encouraged that our team was strong enough to win against other contenders if we focused on playing our own rugby – so they told us to first and foremost focus on the match against New Zealand.”
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As one of their strategies in order to achieve their first and the most significant victory, the players focused on making short passes as a tactic to support the ball carrier. The longer the team is on the offense meant less chances of receiving powerful hits from their opponents. The team also made slow moves kicking the ball outside of the touchline to buy some time when the opposing team committed fouls. And when the team was in defense, players with good sprinting abilities tackled in pairs.
Prospective players were selected during camp at Kagoshima. The role of team captain was assigned to Yusaku Kuwazuru, who always had a smile on his face even during the most rigorous training sessions. Other members included Lemeki Lomano Lava and Yoshitaka Tokunaga, who are also successful players of fifteens rugby; Kenki Fukuoka, who also participated in the World Cup in England; and Katsuyuki Sakai and Kazushi Hano, who have always supported the Japan Sevens.
The big game was held on August 6th. Japan shocked the world with a 14-12 win against New Zealand, and Goya remembers being overjoyed with his teammates.
“Every one of us made aggressive moves against New Zealand and also performed well in contact situations. I could feel that we could win the game in the first 2 minutes. We were always together at camp, and I think that had a positive effect on building our bond.”
In 2016, the year of the Summer Games in Rio, Goya had newly joined the fifteens rugby team Kubota Spears of the Top League. At the time, his team was supportive of him being on the sevens team simultaneously, and Goya was therefore looking forward to play sevens in Tokyo 2020.
Things changed, however, when rookie Goya became a regular player in the same year that he joined the team. “To be honest, I didn’t think I could play that many games during my first year,” confesses Goya. His immediate success was surely motivating but unexpected, causing the Olympian to slightly alter his plans.
“The more I played in the Top League, they told me that I could play sevens outside of the Top League season. The same situation also continued in my second and third years (2017 and 2018). Although I was aiming for Tokyo 2020 soon after the Rio 2016 games ended, my chances of participating in the national team was probably only once a year. Meanwhile, members of the Japan Sevens changed drastically after Rio 2016. I’m sure it was a tough time for the team, but I had to play in the Top League, and I kind of felt sorry that I couldn’t be there.”
Since 2017, Japan Sevens was led by head coach Damian Karauna from New Zealand. However, he was replaced by Kensuke Iwabuchi in June 2018. The general manager of both Japan Sevens and Sakura Sevens was appointed in hopes to redirect the team.
Goya thinks of the current Japan Sevens as a team that has “the same kind of bond we had under Segawa-san.” The national team now provides various forms of support, such as inviting experts of psychology and sleep, and monitoring fatigue levels of each player by testing their saliva every morning.
While remaining as a player of fifteens rugby team Kubota Spears, Goya is now in the middle of adjusting his physical condition to play sevens. Although he is still in his early 20s, his years of playing at the top level qualifies him as a senior player.
“My plan for this year (2019) is to devote myself to play sevens ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Kubota Spears has my back too. Our team has more time to think among ourselves compared to when Segawa-san was our coach. We’re forming tighter bonds because we’re communicating with one another. We’re gradually opening up and sharing our thoughts, and I feel like we’re a stronger team that way. I’m not the type who speaks up that often, but I’m now expressing my opinions more too. I hope to be able to support my teammates who can lead the team.”
Goya is currently recovering from his injuries, and people are waiting for him to get back on the field as soon as he fully recovers. Although there might be obstacles on the way such as long-distance travelling and fighting matches under different environments, he has a reliable ally.
In his bag he carries on the road is Sun Chlorella ‘A’ Powder, which he began taking since fall 2018. He carries it with him to maintain his physical condition while adapting to different foods around the world.
“I take Sun Chlorella ‘A’ Powder with my protein shake after weight training. When I’m really tired, I drink it in the day and night. It goes well with soy milk too. Personally, I feel like my body feels better since I started taking them. Our nutritionist of the national team has warned us to be careful of raw vegetables in foreign countries, and it’s great to be able to take the same nutrients from Sun Chlorella ‘A’ Powder. My body continues to be in good condition when I’m overseas because of that. We couldn’t win a medal in Rio 2016, so I’m very eager to bring one home from Tokyo 2020. That would be my expression of gratitude to everyone who has been supporting me – my family, my high school, our coach of my university team, my fifteens rugby team and the company I work for.”
After having thrown his first rugby ball in Fukuoka and built his body in Chiba, Goya is now a top rugby player who continues to gain experience in countries all over the world. His mind is focused on wearing that medal home from Tokyo 2020
Today, Goya is a member of Kubota Spears of the Japan Rugby Top League. Goya is sure to stay in the spotlight in the world of rugby as one of the key players of Japan’s rugby sevens for the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.