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World Para Powerlifting Asia-Oceania Championships Held for First Time in Japan: Oodo Wins Bronze

Kitakyushu 2018 World Para Powerlifting Asia-Oceania Open Championships was held over the course of five days, from September 8-12. The one person from Japan that was able to win a medal—a medal of enormous significance—was, of course, 43-year old Hideki Oodo. A man who has spent 21 years in the sport, and who has performed very well over the course of his career, including coming in 6th (Men’s 82.5kg) in the London Paralympic Games.
With the medal around his neck, he told us that the 195kg weight—with which he had won his medal—had been “super-light.” Though clearly confident in what he had accomplished, his eyes were still wet with tears.

Oodo, the only Japanese person to get up on the winners’ podium in this tournament

Oodo’s Men’s 88kg event was held on the fourth day of the tournament. This was the first international para powerlifting tournament to be held in Japan, and no Japanese person had ever won a medal in this sport. Tetsuo Nishizaki had gotten sixth place in the Men’s 54kg event at the Rio Paralympic Games, and Hajime Ujiro had been disqualified in the Men’s 80kg event at the London Paralympic Games. In these circumstances, Oodo knew he wanted to focus more on winning a medal for his team, rather than achieving a new personal record, which was what he had told people was his goal before the tournament.

“So many people worked with us to bring this tournament to Kitakyushu. If it ends without Japan winning any medals, people would wonder why they had worked so hard to have this tournament here, and I knew as one of the main figures in the effort that I’d be responsible for it too. So I really fought with all that I had.”

Roaring out a sort of war cry to get in the battle mindset

To be #1, all you have to do is lift the heaviest weight of all the competitors in your weight class. Para powerlifting is an extremely simple sport. There is, however, an unseen depth to the three attempts you get to lift those weights, and Oodo had been doing well on that front—the psychological battle—in this tournament.

Oodo, whose personal record had been 196kg, did a perfect lift of 183kg on his first attempt. In his second attempt, he roared a war cry that echoed through a now silent venue, and threw himself into lifting 191kg. Though he had told the tournament beforehand that his third attempt would be 200kg, he changed it at the last minute to 195kg. This was a strategy to win a medal.

“I knew looking at the performance record of Anto Boi [with whom Oodo was competing for the bronze medal], from Indonesia, that he wouldn’t try to lift 201kg, so I went with 200kg first. He told the tournament he’d do 196kg, but afterwards he changed it to 195kg, which was a weight he knew he’d be able to lift. I bumped it down to 195kg after I saw him change his own weights twice [the maximum number of changes allowed]. I knew I couldn’t lose to people that are weaker than me. I was just desperate to win.”

His rival buckled under the pressure, and Oodo was able to do a perfect lift of the 195 kg barbell, winning Japan its very first medal in an IPC (International Paralympic Committee) regional tournament.

Oodo exploding in joy after succeeding in his third attempt

After the Rio Paralympic Games, where he had come in 8th place, he had had surgery on his right shoulder in preparation for a comeback. After that, he said, he had been performing very well, and had been confident that he would be able to lift over 200kg—something he had accomplished five years ago in an unofficial tournament—in this tournament as well.

“I had the energy to lift a 200kg, but… I thought the personal record could wait until the next tournament. I’m sorry, but I had to focus on winning a medal this time [laughs]. But watch—I’ll be getting even stronger from now on.”

Recently, Oodo has spent more time going to training camps at National Training Centers (Event-Specific Affiliated National Training Center Facilities) in Kyoto and at the Nippon Foundation Para Arena in Tokyo. Though this has cut down on his training time, he said that practicing with a team had been stimulating for him, and that it had really upped his competitive ability.

Said Oodo about the future, “This is the beginning [of the journey to the Tokyo Paralympic Games]. I’ll lift over a 207kg [the threshold to participate independently in the Paralympic Games], and I can and I will go.”

These words, coming from a man that has overcome his slump and come back stronger than ever, are something we can all believe in.

Oodo with medal in hand for a photo op

Japan’s “Performance” Giving Rise to Eight New World Records

There were a total of eight new world records at this tournament, including Ali Reza Izadi (Iran), who set a new junior world record of 140kg in Men’s 49kg, and Lingling Guo (China), with a record of 114kg in Women’s 45kg.

Kitakyushu Performing Arts Center, the venue for the event

“The food and the hotel were great, but above all was the performance of it—it felt like the Paralympics, and it really hyped me up.”
So said Seyedhamed Solhipouravanji (Iran), who won a gold medal in the Men’s 97kg with a 231kg lift. It seems Japan’s hospitality and performances for the athletes helped contribute to the flurry of world records that emerged in this tournament.

In fact, the venue for the tournament was not an athletic facility, but the Kitakyushu Performing Arts Center. The venue was filled with thoughtful touches to make the tournament more fun to watch as a sport—from the giant screen showing a close-up of the athletes, to the catchy background music (perfect to clap along to), and the DJ to liven up the crowds. Paralifters entering the arena were backlit with light, making them seem like heroes arriving into battle, with smoke curling around them if they were to challenge themselves to a new record. These kinds of performances helped elevate anticipation for the upcoming attempts.

The lights beaming onto the powerlifters and the sound effects, which felt almost like the pounding of a heart, hyped up and motivated not only the crowd, but the athletes themselves.

Director Yoshida of the Japanese Para Powerlifting Federation making the closing statement

Director Susumu Yoshida of the Japanese Para Powerlifting Federation, who had promoted this tournament as a sort of rehearsal for the operation of the Tokyo Paralympic Games, reflected on the tournament with a palpable sense of relief.
“The operation part could have been less rushed and chaotic, but that could be something we work on in the next test event. This tournament was full of good things—it’s unheard of for there to be so many world records in a regional tournament. The performance aspect of it, which we want to use to promote the fun of the sport, was even better than that of the Rio Paralympic Games. I think we’ve created a great foothold to tackle the challenges we face in the future.”

This tournament marks the beginning of the battle to compete in Tokyo 2020. And the strong, beautiful performances given by these powerful athletes are sure to help build anticipation for that biggest of stages—the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

text by Asuka Senaga
photo by Tomohiko Sato

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