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Buddhist priest goes for canoe gold in Rio

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(AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano, File)

If nothing else Japanese canoeist Kazuki Yazawa will likely be the most zen athlete at the Rio Games.

When he's not chanting and living the austere life of a Buddhist priest, Kazuki Yazawa contemplates Olympic gold.

The 27-year-old Yazawa will represent Japan in canoe slalom at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics where he hopes to use his mental toughness and skill to bring home a medal.

Yazawa wakes up before dawn every day - not to train - but to pray.

With a shaved head and donning a long black robe, he tags along behind senior priests at the ancient Zenkoji Daikanjin Temple in Nagano prefecture, still learning his chants and getting used to long hours of sitting on the floor.

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(AP Photo/Koji Ueda)

But once the clock strikes 3pm and his duties are done, he changes into a polo shirt and shorts and drives his white van to the nearby Saigawa River to practice for the big stage of Rio.

Yazawa placed ninth in the men's K-1 kayak slalom - a record for a Japanese canoeist - but he was strained under the pressures of finding sponsors.

That's was when he felt the need to find a stable job, and was inspired by his mentor and a fellow priest who also serves as the Nagano canoe association chairman, Kenei Koyama.

In 2013, Yazawa decided to retreat from the front-lines of foreign competition and entered into priesthood.

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(AP Photo/Koji Ueda)

"I never had the intention of balancing the two" Yazawa said.

"When I started as a Buddhist priest, I had decided that my main job would be as a priest and that my life as a canoeist would be done in my spare time."

An unexpected turn of events happened when Yazawa won the Japanese canoe slalom national tournament in 2015, propelling him to the top among Japanese contenders to compete in the Summer Games in Rio.

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(AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano, File)

Now, Yazawa practices for about an hour and half, six days a week, followed by either a runs or a gym session.

His practice time on an average day is less than half of what he had done for the London Olympics, but that has not deterred Yazawa from reaching for gold.

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(AP Photo/Koji Ueda)

"I hope to give my best performance that I can on the grand stage of the Olympics, and come back to Japan with a good feeling" Yazawa said.

© AP 2016