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[Para Sports] A Big Step Towards and Beyond 2020: Dubai 2017 Asian Youth Para Games to Start Dec 10

The "Dubai 2017 Asian Youth Para Games," for junior and youth athletes between ages 12 and 23, will be held in Dubai, U.A.E., from December 10 to 13. A total of 634 athletes from 23 countries and regions will compete for the top spots in the Asian junior and youth community. The Japan team consists of 87 athletes who will compete in seven events, including athletics and badminton. They are hoping for multiple gold medals, with an eye on the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics and beyond.

Badminton player Imai announces resolution at inaugural ceremony

The inaugural ceremony took place in Tokyo on November 21. Taiyo Imai (badminton) announced his resolution as captain of the Japan team. "We will work hard, united, to make this event a huge step forward towards 2020 and beyond."

Hanaoka revealed his ambitions as delegation leader.

Nobukazu Hanaoka, athletics Paralympian and delegation leader, spoke to the young and nervous athletes.
"This event will of course be one page in your youthful years, as well as one chapter in your stories as athletes. The first chapter determines whether the story is interesting. Many strong countries will attend, but some events may have less satisfying opponents. In every case, do your best. Be as fierce, tenacious and unyielding as a lion, whatever result you are aiming for."

The delegation flag was officially handed over from Yasushi Yamawaki, Chairman of the Japanese Paralympic Committee (JPC), to delegation leader Hanaoka, then to flag bearer Sakura Koike (swimming).

An event attended by future Paralympians

This will be the fourth Asian Youth Para Games. Hanaoka's words, "Japan will lead the rest of Asia," are true—Japan's presence in the region is large. In 2009 it was held in Tokyo, where 133 Japanese athletes attended and collected 123 medals, including 65 gold medals. At the 2013 Games in Malaysia, 93 Japanese athletes attended and won 61 gold medals. Of those victors, Haruka Wakasugi (women's goalball), Airi Ike (swimming), Renshi Chokai (wheelchair basketball) and others were selected for the Rio Paralympic Japan representative team. Asian Youth Games medalists Yuki Nishi, Mana Sasaki (athletics) and Daisuke Fujiwara (badminton) have also since put on great performances as top athletes of the younger generation.

The inaugural ceremony was attended by the first batch of athletes and other stakeholders.

With less than 1,000 days until the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, there is some concern for the late start of training young athletes. Amidst these concerns, the Asian Youth Para Games gathered many potential candidates.

Shun Esaki (16), boccia athlete selected for the first time as Japanese representative at the Bangkok World Open in October, and Imai (19), third place winner in singles at the Badminton World Championships held in November, are two athletes garnering high expectations for the Tokyo Paralympics. There are more than a few athletes with experience at international events, such as Honoka Misu (19), who attended the Athletics World Championships, and Dai Tokairin (18), holder of the Japan ID swimming record in the men's 200-meter freestyle and 200-meter individual medley. We look forward to seeing what these athletes, with their various themes, take home this time.

Asia is strong in boccia and badminton, so this international event will be a good opportunity to investigate unknown young athletes who will compete at their first international event. Many of the athletes will be assigned international disability classifications for the first time, or even travel internationally for the first time. The Asian Youth Games is a touchstone for international level competition.

Japanese representatives will arrive in Dubai by December 9 and attend the opening ceremony at the Dubai Club on December 10.

▼Athlete comments

Taiyo Imai (badminton)
"Dubai is the location of the annual awards (of the World Badminton Federation), so I had always wanted to travel there. This is my first multi-sport event, so I look forward to spending time with athletes in other sports and broaden my perspective. As captain, I hope to get a gold medal."

Dai Tokairin (swimming)
「"I will compete in the 200-meter freestyle, relay event and more. I am looking forward to talking with athletes from other countries. I am a bit of a sore loser, but I have not attended an international event for a while, so I plan to enjoy it."

text&photos by Asuka Senaga
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