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Silver Medal at the World Boccia Championships, a Japan Record!

The “Hinotama” Japan boccia team returned to Japan from Liverpool, U.K. on the 20th, following the end of the World Boccia Championships, which is held once every four years. In the Team Competition (BC1-2), Hidetaka Sugimura, the star player of the team, as well as rising star Takumi Nakamura and others, won Japan’s first silver medal in the World Boccia Championships. Here we will introduce some of the players’ comments as they move towards the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, to be held two years from now on August 25, with a newfound sense of confidence.

Silver Medal—the Japan Team’s Greatest Ever Achievement—in the Team Competition (BC1-2)

In the Team Competition (BC1-2), for which the Japan team aims to win a gold medal in the Tokyo Paralympic Games, the team performed very well—a great sign in a tournament just as important as the Paralympic Games. Though they lost to Thailand 4-5 in the finals, which was held on the 18th, they were able to win a silver medal, the greatest ever achievement for the Japan boccia team in the world championships, and on the heels of their silver medal at the Rio Paralympic Games as well.

Star Player Sugimura Wins Medal in the Individual Competition (BC2) as Well

Captain Hidetaka Sugimura also won a bronze medal in the Individual Competition (BC2). He arrived at the airport with two medals around his neck, and smiled at the airport staff and other staff members as they congratulated him on his wins.

Captain Sugimura (right), who won a medal in the Individual Competition, and the other star player of the team, Hirose (left)

The following are the players’ comments.

Comment from Hidetaka Sugimura

“This was an important tournament in the lead-up to the Tokyo Paralympic Games, and it was really good that we were able to get medals for both the Individual and Team Competitions. I wasn’t able to leave behind any results at the Montreal Boccia World Open three months ago, and I personally was working to improve my correction ability (getting your ball into a good position while pushing the other balls) and my push skills. I was able to win the medal because I was able to put into practice the things I’ve been training.”

Comment from Takayuki Hirose

“This world championship was one of the most important tournaments leading up to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. We weren’t able to win gold, but it was really good that we were able to come together as a team to win the silver medal. The fact that we weren’t able to win the gold though means that there are still issues for us to work on. We want to work as a team to solve these issues one by one so that we’re able to get a gold medal the next time.”

Comment from Yuriko Fujii

“It was really good that we were able to fight to the end without giving up. This tournament brought to light some of our issues, so from now on we’ll be working our hardest to fix them.” She went on with the following statement about the difference in ability between their team and the winning Thailand team. “The Japan team has really been getting better since the Rio Paralympic Games, and the difference in ability is now less pronounced. Now it’s just a matter of whether there are any mistakes, so we want to improve the throwing skills of each of our players.”

Comment from Takumi Nakamura

“We got so much support from so many people, and the result was a silver medal. I’m happy that we were able to get a medal, but we weren’t able to give it our all, and we were really aiming to be world champions. Until recently, I was just doing what the captain told me to do, but now I find myself asking about things I don’t understand, and thinking for myself. I hope the confidence from this victory will help us win the gold in the Tokyo Paralympic Games.”

Back row, from left to right: Team Manager Kawai, Head Coach Murakami
Front row, from left to right: Fujii, Nakamura, Hirose, Sugimura

Head Coach Mitsuteru Murakami, who has coached the team since the Rio Paralympic Games, told us the following.

“Our goal is to win a gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Since this is an important tournament that comes before those games, we went into it trying to see how far our skills and strategies would take us. Especially in the Team Competition, we had a lot of tough match-ups, going against powerhouse countries like Korea, China, and Thailand. Before, we would try to win with surprise attacks, but this time, we were fighting them on the same playing field. Getting second place—we were able to achieve our goal for this tournament. Though we did lose against Thailand in the finals, I think we put up a good fight, especially since we were working not to try too hard—“playing normally,” if you will—and I think this experience has made the players more confident as a whole.”

Anticipation for the Future for the BC3 and BC4 Classes

Team Manager Shunji Kawai gave his opinion about the tournament as a whole. “We were able to win a medal in a high-level tournament that only comes around once every four years. We didn’t lose against any team except for Thailand, and the difference in ability between us and the Thailand team is only getting smaller. We’ll continue working on the training plan we’ve developed, and hope to get good results at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.” He went on, however, to say, “We weren’t able to get the results we wanted in the BC3 and BC4 classes. In the two years until the Paralympic Games, we’ll be working to strengthen these two classes based on the experiences we had at this tournament, and the issues that were brought to light.”

“We lost in the preliminaries, which was frustrating. But we were able to discern some new issues, so we’ll practice and practice to get to the finals for sure next time,” said Shun Esaki (BC4), who competed in this world championship as a 3rd year in high school.

The Asian Para Games will be held in Jakarta, Indonesia in October. Though the members of the Japan team have not been selected yet, captain Sugimura told us, “The teams in Asia are strong, and so it’s a good opportunity to test your ability. If I’m chosen as part of the Japan team and we go against Thailand, I’d want to hit them with all the frustration we felt from this tournament.”

text & photo by Asuka Senaga

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