Captured Three Crystal Globes
as Overall World Cup
Para alpine skiers in the Japanese Para Alpine Ski Team spend 150 days out of the year abroad for training on snow or competitions. They got a lot of gear to be packed for every tour. Taiki Morii, who competes in the men’s sitting category, needs sit-ski, spare seats, and different types of ski for each event he competes. Therefore, the total weight of the gear reaches 150kg.
On the way back to Japan from USA in March 2016, there was a huge box added to his baggage. There were three big Crystal Globe trophies in the box. He won the overall ranking title of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Cup in the men’s sitting category as well as two titles of individual ranking in the Giant Slalom and Slalom in the men’s sitting category. “It was a very fulfilling season. I am not really good at the Slalom, so I was even surprised myself that I won. And I am very happy about it too!” said Morii.
IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup consists of a series of race in various venues throughout a season. It is not like the Paralympic Games and the World Championships, which are decided by a competition. A total of 17 World Cup rounds were held during the 2015/16 season at venues in Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, France and the United States. To win the coveted Crystal Globe, athletes must leave stable results under various conditions of the course, snow and weather, which differ from race to race even if they are of the same event.
The overall season title requires much more. Only a strong, all-round alpine skier, who have no disparities in skills between events nor major ups and downs in performance throughout the season, can compete for the title. Morii first achieved that honor four years ago, and did it again this season. All Alpine Ski athletes in the sitting category from around the world see his heavily muscular back from behind and are determined to chase it to overcome him.
The Only Thing Missing Is a Paralympic Gold Medal
Morii’s first encounter with sit-skiing was the TV broadcasting of the Nagano 1998 Paralympic Winter Games while hospitalized after his motorcycle accident. He saw sit-skiing for the first time and athletes expertly maneuvering their sit-skis to race down a slope. It was the moment to ignite the spark of hope in Morii’s heart, which had been filled with despair.
Once Morii tried a sit-ski on the slopes, he developed his talent in a flash. He managed to make turns in sequence on his own from his first day – marking his legendary footsteps. It was not long before he made his debut in a domestic tournament and caught public attention. The 21-year-old took part in the Paralympic Games for the first time in Salt Lake City in 2002. He was fully confident to win a medal, but the young star who was not afraid of anything reached a deadlock for the first time. It turned out that the world’s top skiers have skills to deal with complex courses with continuous slope changes, physical fitness to make instantaneous recovery from mistakes, and the mental strength to stay calm even on the big stage, though Morii lacked all of them at that time.
This heart-breaking experience gave Morii a new starting point as an athlete. A talented athlete, who had reached the world class stage only with extraordinary gift, began making an earnest effort toward next Paralympics. During the next four years, he totally devoted himself to athletically related activities. The skiing athlete improved carving turn skill to make a sharp turn without slipping skis, and became the one to reckon with by the world. At the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games, he finally won a silver medal in the Giant Slalom event in the men’s sitting category.
Morii made an appearance on the Paralympic podium in both Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, but he was never fully satisfied with the results. Having difficulties in the maintenance of his sit-skis as well as with the course conditions, the three-time Paralympic medalist got a strong feeling that he could not give his best performance. That is why he has a special meaning to his fifth challenge—the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games. “The Paralympic gold medal is the only medal that I don’t have. That’s why I am aiming for the top of the podium, gold medal only. I’ll do anything to get it.” said Morii.
When asked about his impression after the test run on the slopes at the Alpine Ski venue, Morii responded with confidence, “I liked the course.” Both silver and bronze medal seems inappropriate for him now. We all look forward to seeing him as a champion with a long-cherished Paralympic gold medal hanging around his neck.
text&photos by Isao Horikiri