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Two of the World’s Top Swimmers Visit Japan: Talking to and Giving Advice to Japanese Para-Swimmers

This November, two of the world’s top swimmers came to visit Japan. Daniel Dias, a hero in his country of Brazil, who has competed in three Paralympics and has won a total of 24 medals, and Ellie Cole, Rio Paralympics gold medalist and star swimmer of swimming powerhouse Australia. The two had come to promote the Paralympic documentary series “WHO I AM,” a joint project between the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and WOWOW. Despite their very busy schedules, however, they found time to visit the Rikkyo University, where Japan’s endorsed swimmers train.

Cheerfulness Breeds Strength

Dias, upon spotting fellow Paralympian Takayuki Suzuki, who he has gone against on the world stage, went over and put his arm around him, happy to see him again. Cole also spotted a familiar face, and ran over for a hug. The two’s presence brought an immediate touch of lightness and joy to the poolside.

During the day, Dias and Cole had actually given a lecture to the students on the Rikkyo University campus, which is located in Saitama. Together with para-swimmer Miki Kamada, who is a student at the university, they spoke about how they got into swimming, asked the students for their support in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, and more.

Afterwards, they gave a demonstration of their swimming to the audience, and participated in a relay race with members of the Swimming Club (the Dias team went against the Cole team, and after a close and heated race, the Cole team claimed victory by a very narrow margin). Then, they had powered through their interviews and photo shoots and finally arrived at this pool in the city.

Suzuki (left) and Dias (right) both have limb deficiencies

Despite that, the two refused to show any sign of fatigue, and spoke very candidly to the younger swimmers—a show of their star power. What makes Dias and Cole so strong?

We first asked Suzuki, gold medalist in the Breaststroke (SB3) event at the Beijing Paralympics, about what makes his long-time friend Dias so strong.
“In some events he’s just way faster than anyone else, but even he has races that are really close. What makes him so amazing is his toughness in these races, and how he manages to break through and win them. Other than that, maybe his characteristic Brazilian cheeriness?”

Suzuki is Japan’s top para-swimmer, having won five gold medals in the Asian Para Games

Junichi Kawai, who won 21 medals in the Paralympics and who serves as Chairman of the Japanese Para-Swimming Federation, and had come on this day to see Dias and Cole, also pointed out their cheeriness, and spoke to us about how positive thinking breeds toughness in races.

“I think it comes down to whether or not you can visualize the good things that will happen to you if you win this race. If you think like that, your performance will be completely different from the kind of person who just worries about losing and what will happen to their life if they do. These kinds of people have an advantage because they have a goal, work as hard as they can to up the possibility that they’ll win, and are bent on being the star of their own races.”

In other words, the key to toughness is focusing more on their own expectations on themselves, and the drive to win and to be a hero, instead of any fear about losing or making a mistake. After meeting Dias and Cole, Kawai said repeatedly “Yup, cheerfulness really is the key,” as if reaffirming his belief.

Kawai, who made his mark on the Paralympics as a blind swimmer

The Core Strength That Allows for the Balance Needed in Their Swimming

This is not to say, however, that the two’s characters are built entirely upon being cheerful. “Of course that’s not the case,” declared Fumiyo Minemura, who coached the Japan national para-swimming team for the recent Indonesia 2018 Asian Para Games.

“They’re good, but they’re also people who are good, candid, and without arrogance. Yes, they may not publicize how hard they’ve had to work, but they’ve definitely had to work very hard. It’s not easy to win a medal, and I’ve heard from them about some of their struggles.”

Their efforts and hard work, in fact, were what gave rise to their physical strength and high level of skill. Indeed, when the Japanese swimmers were asked about Dias and Cole, many of them voiced their amazement at the two’s core strength.

“The way he uses his core, with his kicks acting as an axis, is really stable,” said Suzuki about Dias. Minemura also gave her analysis, saying, “I’ve learned so many new things watching him swim—like oh, that’s how he uses his body. Dias is missing both arms and swims with one leg. For him to swim, he has no choice but to find the optimal balance for himself, and I sense a spirit of experimentation in him as he uses his body in different ways to swim faster.”

15-year old Manami Urata, who had her leg amputated at the thigh just like Cole, was open about her respect for her, and her ability to swim so smoothly even with one leg.

“I think the most amazing thing about Ellie is how strong her core is. Her swimming is so secure and so stable—I’m just in awe. I really feel that she’s gone through a lot of hard training. I want to try to mimic her, learn from her strengths, and get better too.”

Urata also told us that Cole had given her some advice, saying, “To roll your shoulders more in your backstroke, particularly when you’re rolling your right arm, you should really work to stabilize your core on the left side—the side with the amputation.” Cole had also taught the still young Urata how to train for that as well.

Urata was very moved to speak with Cole, who is one of her idols

Yuuki Morishita, who swam with Cole in the Rio Paralympics and the Japan Para Swimming Championships in September, also mentioned the strength of Cole’s single-legged kicks.

“Once, when I watched Ellie’s leg in an underwater video, I noticed it seemed to be doing the work of both legs. I was amazed that you could swim like that with one leg. Her swimming was really smooth and beautiful.”

Coming into contact with gold medalist Cole and her beautiful swimming—so natural you wouldn’t think she had an impairment—was definitely a source of inspiration for these Japanese athletes.

Morishita, who has a left forearm deficiency, also seemed to be inspired by Cole

Morishita (left) and Urata (right) in a commemorative photo, with Cole in the middle

Speaking to a top athlete and receiving valuable advice not only helps improve technique—it helps up motivation as well. We hope the approach of the Tokyo Paralympics will allow Japanese para-athletes to experience more and more of these incredible opportunities.

text by TEAM A
photo by Kazuyuki Ogawa

(Special thanks to: Rikkyo University)

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