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Snowboarder Gurimu Narita Wins Banked Slalom Gold, “True to My Abilities” / PyeongChang Paralympics

"I feel great! Any of the competitors could have won, and it makes me very happy to win among such great athletes."

Gurimu Narita (men's LL2) won the gold after an intense competition with top athletes from around the world.

In the Banked Slalom event, competitors take three runs and compete with their best time. Narita was the first skier of 20 competitors. He had the best times in the first and second runs, and broke his personal record on the third. The 24-year-old snowboarder had announced Taking on challenges as his theme for PyeongChang, and his outstanding performance was an inspiration for everyone watching.

Narita changed his snowboard setting and his ski course on the second run. © X-1

Two very close challenges

Narita won the bronze in the Snowboard Cross event, applying the same attitude of Taking on challenges. On this day, the weather in PyeongChang was exceptionally cold for the first time in a while, and the snow was firm to Narita's liking. After the first run, he found the snow harder than expected and adjusted his snowboard. Narita has paralysis in his left leg, and since last season has been making improvements to his equipment to bring his strong right leg towards the center of the board for better balance. Acquiring knowledge in how to make adjustments allowed Narita to make a decision on this day to shift his stance three centimeters back—this prioritized power over ease of turning. The decision had its risks, but he wanted to challenge himself. The result was a fast run and a time that beat all other rivals. That said, the other athletes also brought their times up and were getting close to catching up.

"When watching the upper limb disability class athletes, who skied before us, most of them got better times with each run. Even though I had the best time at that point, I knew someone might overtake me on their third run."

And so they started their third runs. Narita was ready. He boldly changed his skiing course to cut through the fifth bank vertically, which he considered a tough point. "I had never done that before, and there was no guarantee (that I would not fall). But I was not going after a medal. My theme was to take on challenges, so that is what I did."

Narita's third time was 48.68, almost one second faster than his second run. After waiting for the others to take their third runs, he was finally announced the winner. Evan Strong (U.S.) took silver with a time difference of 0.52 seconds, and Matti Suur-Hamari (Finland) took bronze with a time difference of 0.83 seconds. The top eight contenders broke their personal bests on their third runs. It was truly a high-level competition.

"'My results are true to my abilities,' and my abilities right now are a gold medal. That makes me happy."

"Taking on challenges was exciting." © Getty Images Sport

Narita's story is worth spreading

Gurimu Narita was born in Osaka as the third and youngest child of a sports family. Just like his brother Domu Narita and sister Mero Imai, both Olympians in snowboarding events, Gurimu Narita started snowboarding, skiing and doing other sports at a young age. He started competing in freestyle and half-pipe skiing in 2012 and quickly showed talent. He competed in the World Cup three times and won the 2013 World Junior Championships. He also began competing in trampoline events, which he had been training to improve his balance, and was an excellent athlete.

The youngest child in a sports family. With brother Domu (right) and sister Mero (left)

However, in April 2013, Narita sustained an injury during trampoline practice and was left with paralysis in his left leg from knee down. At first he could not even walk. The doctor told him he may have to amputate the leg and that he would have to give up sports. Still halfway on his way to the Olympics, Narita lost his dream and fell into despair.

He once more aimed for the Sochi Olympics, but could not move his left foot up and down from the ankle down. He decided to quit competing with the Olympics as his goal, and started up sports again simply to have fun. When this attitude inspired another disabled person, he realized, "I can still influence others by playing sports."

His mission as an athlete changed to "becoming a great sports athlete who offers aspiration, inspiration, courage and hope to people with disabilities, people who are forced to retire due to injury, and anyone else."

He wanted to aim for a big goal with a greater reach of influence, and that led him again to the Olympics. However, even if he achieved this goal, people may not realize he has a disability, so he set his goal to "Attending the Paralympics, then the Olympics."

According to Narita, who competes in snowboarding as well as athletics events, the appeal of the Paralympic Games is that "Every Paralympian has a story, and I myself am inspired by those stories. For example, if there is an athlete way behind the fastest guy in an athletics race, when he reaches the goal the crowd gives a huge applause. You do not see this kind of inspiring scene very often in the Olympics. Since aiming for the Paralympics, I feel that I have learned more about the meaning of playing sports."

Rivals become friends once the races are over. © X-1

At the world's greatest event

After the medal ceremony, Narita, Strong and Suur-Hamari congratulated each other.

"The competition was amazingly close. Everyone is so good, and it can be such a minor thing that changes your time by less than a second." This was the first Paralympic competition experienced by the former Olympic hopeful.

Gurimu Narita's goal is to attend both the Olympics and Paralympics, and the first chapter of his legend-in-the-making story ended grandly with a Paralympic gold.

text by Asuka Senaga
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