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Japan Para-Swimming Championships: 523 Swimmers Gather for The Last National Tournament of the Year

The 35th Japan Para-Swimming Championships was held at the Sports no Mori Suzuka Aquatics Center in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, from December 1-2. The tournament went through a name change this year to facilitate familiarity amongst the general population. More people competed in this year’s championship than ever before, with 523 para-swimmers (355 men and 168 women) all across Japan gaining access to the tournament via qualifying standards, etc., and all of them were here to compete in the last national tournament of the year.

Sports no Mori Suzuka Aquatics Center in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture was the venue for the Japan Para-Swimming Championships

22-Year Old Ayano Tsujiuchi Sets New Asia Record with 200m Freestyle!

On the second day of the tournament, Ayano Tsujiuchi of the Women’s 200m Freestyle (S13/visual impairment) beat her own Asia record at the Japan Para Championships in September by over 5 seconds, for a time of 2 minutes 17.27 seconds, winning gold in the event with a new Asia record. This, on top of the Japan record she had set in the Women’s 100m Breaststroke the previous day, was how she finished off her year.

This great stride forward was fueled by the frustration she had felt at the Indonesia 2018 Asian Para Games in October—her first time at the Asian Para Games, and she had only managed four bronze medals. Though to anyone else this may have seemed like more than enough, Tsujiuchi herself had been dissatisfied with many aspects of her performance, and had gone home and focused on gaining muscle strength in the upper half of her body.

“My swimming has always been pretty large-scale, but it’d gotten smaller because I didn’t have enough muscle strength and physical strength. So I just practiced pulling more water, and pushing it back as fast as I could. This time I wasn’t as tired as after the Asian Para Games, and I really felt how much I’d grown.”

Ayano Tsujiuchi, who made great strides this season, specializes in freestyle

22-year old Tsujiuchi, since her para-swimming debut in 2017, has found herself without rival in Japan. Having competed in many international tournaments this year, she told us she has started feeling bolder, saying she doesn’t have very much to be scared of in Japan anymore.

And she did indeed seem noticeably more confident. Tsujiuchi, who is working to be certified in judo therapy and has to take a national exam for the certification, has to miss the second day of the Japan Para-Swimming Spring Meet (Shizuoka Prefecture) in March. The fact that she will compete in fewer events in a meet that also counts as qualifying tournament for the 2019 World Para Swimming World Championships must be added pressure on her, and yet she said, seemingly without any worry, “I’ll get myself in as good a condition as I can, and just aim for a good time.”

“I’ll arrive [at the Japan Para-Swimming Spring Meet] the day before, compete bright and early in the morning on Saturday, and head straight back to home to Tokyo to take that test!”

Tsujiuchi’s journey, what with her limited opportunity, is risky—the Japan Para-Swimming Spring Meet to qualify for the World Para Swimming World Championships, and this in turn to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. But she will for sure give it her all next March.

Takayuki Suzuki, Five-Time Gold Medalist at the Asian Para Games, Sets a New Japan Record!

On the first day, Takayuki Suzuki, who has won five gold medals in the Asian Para Games, set a new Japan record in the Men’s 50m Backstroke (S4/musculoskeletal impairment) event. “It’s not like I swim backstroke on an everyday basis so this time isn’t bad, but it’s not really good either,” he said, looking back. But as many of his peers finished with relatively unimpressive results, his time of 50.79 seconds—a leap over the previous Japan record—gave him a significant sense of presence in the tournament.

Takayuki Suzuki (front row; four from the right) smiling to welcome Hiroshi Hosokawa, who had recited the fair play oath

For Suzuki, the end of the season comes only after the Asian Para Games. As such, he has already started working towards upcoming tournaments, his goal being to get one more step ahead in preparation for the Spring Meet next March, and to get up on that winners’ podium at the World Championships.

However, Suzuki does not plan to change much about what he is doing now, saying, “I don’t have any plans to change my technique. I’m gonna keep doing the same training for my swimming and for my muscle training as well.” This is understandable, given how he feels about his previous season, which he said was “a year of good times.” As it is, he intends to go back and forth between Japan and the U.K., his study abroad destination, and keep his pace steady as he trains for the future.

“I’ll take each day as it comes, go through my training, and work hard so I can get more results in the future.” 31-year old Suzuki, who has competed four times in the Paralympics, was looking to the future.

World Record Holder Tomita in the Midst of Revising His Form

“I’ve revised my form drastically for all four of my events.” So said Uchu Tomita (S11/visual impairment) who set a new world record in the Men’s 800m Freestyle event at the Internationale Deustche Meisterschaften in June 2018.

Uchu Tomita is revising his form in preparation for the next season

“Before, I would lift my face up after I’d pulled all the water back, but now I do it right as I’ve started to pull. It’s a tiny difference, but it makes my strokes faster, and it gives me a more forward-leaning form that’s more stable in terms of ups and downs.”

His body still is not fully accustomed to this new form, however, and his performance in the tournament ended with “almost there, but not quite.” The best he was able to manage was his 28.83 seconds in the Men’s 50m Butterfly and 1 minute 3.34 seconds in the Men’s 100m Butterfly, for which he set new tournament records.

Tomita, however, seemed optimistic. As to his future, he said, “I’ll work on my form until the end of the year, and after New Year’s I’ll just practice these forms as much as possible, so I can just improve my condition as much as I can next year as well.” In any case, it is certain that Tomita—Japan’s new para-swimming star—when he shows up at the Spring Meet next March, will have gone through quite a transformation.

Breaststroke Specialist Tomotaro Nakamura, Promising a Comeback, Sets New Japan Record

Tomotaro Nakamura, who set a new Asia record in the Men’s 100m Breaststroke (SB6/musculoskeletal impairment) event at the Japan Para Games in September, had been frustrated that his record had been beaten by a Chinese para-swimmer in the Asian Para Games that immediately followed. He had, in fact, approached this tournament with this frustration held close to his heart. In the end, however, he managed only to beat the Japan record he himself had set in the Asian Para Games, with a time of 1 minute 24.85 seconds.

“I didn’t like my performance at the Asian Para Games, so when I got home I just threw myself into training—without resting, even. This time I went in without adjusting as much as I should’ve, and so my results were okay. But in the end I couldn’t get to 1 minute 21.23 seconds—the current Asia record—and so I think I didn’t try hard enough.”

Tomotaro Nakamura used his frustration to fuel his training and set a new Japan record

The 34-year old, a long-timer in the world of para-swimming, spoke constantly about his frustration with himself. It is impressive, in the midst of this kind of feeling, that he maintains the drive to move further up, and up, and up. “Right now I’m doing battle with a middle-school girl who’s very very fast. My focus is working on my kicks,” he said, promising his growth in the future.

text by Yoshimi Suzuki
photo by X-1

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