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2018 Japan Para Athletics Championships: A Two-Day Showcase of World Record Holders

The “2018 Japan Para Athletics Championships” was held at Shoda Shoyu Stadium Gunma on July 7 and 8. The world’s top para-athletes gathered for this event in order to experience the heat and humidity of Japan’s summer, in advance of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games two years from now. In this report, we focus on both the Japanese and non-Japanese world record holders that competed at this event.

Markus Rehm Sets a New World Record with an Extraordinary Jump!

Super-human jumper Markus Rehm sets a new world record in Japan

The most impressive performance at this tournament was given by Markus Rehm (Germany) of the Men’s Long Jump event. Rehm, whose world record—8.40 meters—is equivalent to that of the top able-bodied long jumpers, is currently aiming to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Games. Before this championship, he had expressed his desire to show off his athletic skill, not as a person with disabilities, but as an athlete.

The Men’s Long Jump (T64: Single below-knee prosthesis) event was held on the afternoon of the 8th. Though there had been some concern about the weather, the skies were clear. Rehm jumped 8.18 meters in his first try. “I felt right then that I was maybe going to set a record,” he recalled after the event.

He uses the counterforce from his prosthetic leg to fly high through the sky. Every jump by this 185-cm tall long jumper drew thunderous applause from the spectators. He jumped 8.27 meters on his fifth try and then, in his sixth and final try, managed 8.47 meters—7 centimeters more than his previous world record—with the help of a 1.5-meter tailwind. He turned to the audience with his fists clenched in triumph.

He had set his previous world record of 8.40 meters at the 2015 IPC World Athletics Championships in Doha. “I was trying for a long time to set a new world record, and I’m happy I was able to do it in Japan. The Japanese fans were calling my name and clapping to cheer me on. Today was perfect.”

When we asked him about his efforts towards the Olympics, he said, “When one of my prosthetics breaks I’ll sometimes get a new one of the same type, but I never upgrade to a more advanced prosthetic. I get better by focusing more on the psychological aspect of my performance, like my feelings.” He went on to express his anticipation for the Tokyo 2020 Games, saying he wants the Olympic and Paralympic Games to have a closer relationship, and that he wants to show everyone what Paralympians are capable of. Afterwards, he took photos with and signed autographs for his fans, then left the venue.

Taking commemorative photos with local spectators and stadium staff members

Heinrich Popow Competing in His Last Two Tournaments Before His Retirement in the Summer, Amongst Rivals

Three hours before Markus Rehm and his record-breaking moment, Heinrich Popow (Germany) of the Men’s Long Jump event (T63: Single above-knee prosthesis) was captivating the audience with his powerful lift-off and jumps. Popow currently holds the world record of his class, at 6.77 meters.

Heinrich Popow, world record holder for the T63 class

Starting with Beijing, Popow has won medals in three Paralympic Games in a row. He has said, “I’ve done everything I can do—I’m burnt out. From now on, I want to support young athletes.” He has expressed his plans to retire after the 2018 World Para Athletics European Championships in August.

Popow, who won the gold medal at the Rio Paralympic Games, competed alongside Atsushi Yamamoto, who won silver at the same games, and Daniel Jorgensen (Denmark), who won bronze. On this day, Popow’s best record was 6.21 meters.
“I wasn’t feeling 100%—my emotions were a bit unstable, knowing I only have two tournaments until my retirement in August, and I’d just recovered from an injury. But I’m happy to have been able to compete alongside the skilled athletes I’ve been going up against throughout my career.”

Noteworthy is the fact that Atsushi Yamamoto, Popow’s rival since 2005, had decided to compete in the championships despite the pain from the dislocation of his left shoulder. “I thought when I was first injured I wouldn’t be able to compete in this tournament, but decided when I was practicing this morning that I would do it, because this was my last opportunity to compete against Heinrich. It was important for me just to be there in competition, even if I wasn’t able to do very well,” said Yamamoto, expressing his admiration for his fellow T63 athlete. “I can’t even begin to describe how happy that makes me feel,” said Popow in response.

Atsushi Yamamoto is also a former world record holder

In the event, Yamamoto suffered two consecutive fouls then jumped 6.41 meters on his third try, leading the pack. Daniel Jorgensen jumped 6.41 meters on his sixth try. Though their records were the same, Jorgensen won first place based on his second jump, which had been better than Yamamoto’s other jumps.

Winner Daniel Jorgensen’s jump

Popow, who came in third, took a moment to appreciate a moment with his rivals, shaking hands with Jorgensen and carrying Yamamoto around on his shoulders.

Popow and Yamamoto congratulating each other on a good game

Runner Martina Caironi and Her First Time Being in Japan.

Martina Caironi (Italy) holds the world record for the 100m event (T63: Single above-knee prosthetic). On the first day of the event, she showed off her extraordinary speed to the Japanese runners, setting a new tournament record of 15.21 seconds. The next day, she set a new seasonal record of 4.85 meters and won the Women’s Long Jump event, for which she had sworn to try her best, even in the unforgiving weather and unfamiliar venue. Looking back on the event, she smiled and said, “The audience clapping for me really cheered me on.”

Martina Caironi with her overwhelming victory

Mauricio Valencia, Super-Thrower

Another world champion dominated the field with his ferocious yells. Mauricio Valencia (Colombia), who holds the world record—38.23 meters—for the Javelin Throw event (F34: Cerebral palsy, etc.), competed and won first place in the Discus Throw event, the Shot Put event, and the Javelin Throw event. He even had the time and energy to teach the Japanese athletes some of his techniques. “I’m glad I was able to come to Japan before the Paralympic Games. Recently, there’s been more of a focus on parasports in Colombia as well. I hope the children of Japan enjoy the festivities of the Paralympics as well.”

Mauricio Valencia, with all of his star power©X-1

Tomoki Sato, Holder of Two World Records, Has a Great Run

Japan boasts a skilled wheelchair racer as well—Tomoki Sato (T52: Quadriplegia, etc.). In the Kanto Para Track and Field Tournament, held a week before this tournament, he set two world records—55.13 seconds for the 400m event, and 3 minutes, 25.08 seconds for the 1500m event. Sato was also a silver medalist for the 400m and 1500m events at the Rio Paralympics. Though competing in three events, still tired from the week before, and though the Tartan track is notoriously difficult for those on wheelchairs, slowing them down, he still showed off a spectacular run and managed to set a new tournament record.

He worked especially hard at the 800m event, aiming for his third world record. “The 800m, unlike the 400m or the 1500m, is not an official event of the Tokyo Paralympic Games, but I was always a bit dissatisfied that Raymond Martin [Tomoki’s rival and Rio Paralympic Games gold medalist] still had the world record, and I prepared for this event to try to beat it.” Though Tomoki’s record dwarfed that of Tomoya Ito, who holds the Asia record, his time—1 minute 53 seconds—was not enough for a new world record. He was still confident, however. “My times have gotten better as a whole since last year, so I’d want to try again if there’s an opportunity,” he said.
*Raymond Martin’s world record: 1 minute, 51.64 seconds

Markus Rehm and his world-record jump

The world’s top athletes, making their names known to the world. These two days were an extraordinary showcase of their ability.

text by Asuka Senaga
photo by Rokuro Inoue

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