2018 ITU World Paratriathlon Series Yokohama – Report
The "ITU World Paratriathlon Series" (three events) is the world's largest paratriathlon series. The Yokohama event, the first of this season's series, took place on May 12 on a special course around Yamashita Park in the City of Yokohama. A total of 70 athletes in six disability classes (men and women) gathered to compete for the top spot. Of the nine Japanese who attended, women's PTWC (sitting) athlete Wakako Tsuchida and women's PTS4 (standing) athlete Mami Tani won consecutive titles with times of 1:11:23 and 1:13:56, respectively.
Testing her potential—Wakako Tsuchida officially switched over from athletics
Tsuchida is a world-class athlete and holder of the wheelchair marathon world record. She began attending triathlons as part of her marathon practice, and won the last event. In January she officially switched from athletics to triathlon, noting both the fun and the difficulty of the sport and saying, "I want to test my potential."
Tsuchida waiting for the start of the swimming portion
On this day, which was this season's first race in Japan, Tsuchida finished the swimming portion almost six minutes after the top athlete, putting her in sixth place of all seven competitors. However, she finished top in the handcycle portion, which was part of her training routine during her athletics days, as well as in her signature wheelchair race portion. She came in first with a staggering three minute 30 second lead on second place winner Lauren Parker (Australia).
"I was behind in the swim (my weak point), but was able to catch up to each player in the other two portions. I am glad I was able to yield results in Yokohama, which was my goal," she said with a relieved expression.
Tsuchida caught up during the bike portion (handcycle)
That said, she is not complacent: "There are still a pile of things I need to work on. I must overcome them one at a time." In particular, she only began full time swim training a year and a half ago, when she starting it to treat her exercise induced asthma. She currently focuses on swimming three to five days a week under a special coach.
Due to spinal cord injury, Tsuchida's thermoregulation function is impaired. This means her body is affected more by external temperatures, thus is more susceptible to conditions like hypothermia and heatstroke. Last year she had to withdraw from a race due to low water temperature conditions.
Basically, her body needs to get used to its environment, which is why she trains in a low temperature pool. She says she can endure 16–17 degree Celsius temperatures, but, "Today's (water temperature) forecast was 15 degrees, and I had to deal with my fear of what that one degree drop would do to my body."
Tsuchida vows to keep moving forward: "There are still many things I cannot do. That is why I can still broaden my potential and why I want to keep taking on new challenges. It has not yet been long since I switched over, so I will take it one competition at a time."
Mami Tani's winning streak at international events — "I know my true capabilities."
Tani is a three-time Paralympian in the athletics long jump. She officially switched to triathlon two seasons ago, and maintains a great track record with no losses at an international event since last year, including the World Championships. At this event she won with a two minute and seven second lead on second place winner Anna Plotnikova (Russia). She was two minutes 42 seconds ahead in the swimming portion, her strong point, and with perseverance kept her top position throughout the bike and run portions.
Tani (left) jumped ahead in the swim portion, her strong suit.
She collapsed right after finishing. "I wanted to put in a full effort, instead of being defensive. The last bit was hard, but so many people were waiting for me and it felt great to cross the finish line," she said with a smile.
She also mentioned problem points: "I still cannot be fully satisfied. I need to get faster in my bike and run portions." She calmly talks of her severe winter training: "I feel fundamentally stronger in all of the portions compared to last year, but I still have a ways to go. This (consecutive victory) is too much. My coach and I both know my true capabilities."
This season she intends to focus on training within Japan instead of at international events. She plans to attend triathlons open to the public. They are long and attract a large number of participants, so it will help with endurance and tactic building. She showed ambition with the words, "I will keep gaining experience, and hope to get another consecutive win at the World Championships in September."
Tani is also a Paralympian in the athletics long jump.
Compared to the race last year, which was held in the rain, there were twice as many spectators along the route. "It made me think, maybe this is what Tokyo (2020) will be like, and it was exciting. I would love to get in." She is looking forward to the grand Games, but of all 22 sports for the Tokyo Paralympics, triathlon is the only one for which classifications have not yet been announced. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and International Triathlon Union (ITU) are working on it with plans to announce sometime later this year.
Tani said, "Athletes have no say on which classes will be allowed. I will do what I can to step up my game while I wait." She is committed to working on her problem points as an athlete.
The Triathlon just became an official Paralympic sport at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. It is a tough sport that involves three different portions, but there are more than a few athletes that have switched over from other sports, like Tsuchida and Tani, and the level and pool of triathlon athletes keep rising. We will keep our eyes on the passionate battles, so gratifying to watch, of these high-achieving athletes.
text by Kyoko Hoshino
Photo by X-1