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The Japan Para-Swimming Meet as Qualifier for the World Championships (Part I)

The 2019 Japan Para-Swimming Spring Meet was held from March 2-3 at the Fuji Swimming Pools.

In 2016, this meet had been a battleground, as swimmers fought to qualify for the Japan national team in the Rio Paralympics, and already it looks like this will be the case for 2020 as well, for the Tokyo Paralympics. The swimmers competing in this tournament were thus under a special kind of pressure as they worked towards the major goal of this season—clearing the qualifying standards for the World Para Swimming Championships.

Star Para-Swimmers (Slowly But Surely) Pave the Way for Tokyo

First to show their progress were Keiichi Kimura and Takayuki Suzuki, the two “international” Japanese para-swimmers. Kimura had won two silver medals and two bronze medals in the Rio Paralympics, after which—seeking a more competitive environment—he’d moved most of his training to the U.S., swimming in the same pool as U.S. gold medalists. In this tournament, he was able to clear the qualifying standards for four events, including the 200m Individual Medley (SM11), and in the second day of the tournament, he set a new Asia record in the 100m Butterfly (S11) event, with a time of 1 minute 1.17 seconds. “Until now, I’d thought it was a reach to even get near the world record (1 minute 1.12 seconds), but now it actually seems possible if I work out some kinks in my technique. At the World Championships, I’m gonna win gold and set a world record,” he announced, with conviction.

Blind swimmer Keiichi Kimura, who set an Asia record in the 100m Butterfly event

Another promising swimmer, who—much like Kimura—is expected to win multiple medals at the World Championships, is Takayuki Suzuki, who also served as captain of the Japan national team for the 2018 Indonesia Asian Para Games. Currently, Suzuki is training for the Tokyo Paralympics while attending graduate school in the city of Newcastle in the U.K. After his 50m Breaststroke (SB3) event on the second day, he said confidently, “That was a pretty good time, considering I had a not-so-good start.” Though both the events for which he cleared the qualifying standards—the Freestyle (S4) and the aforementioned Breaststroke—were 50m, meaning they did not require turns, he had actually spent his winter working to improve his turns and other details in his technique. He also mentioned he could now jump further in his initial dive than before, and overall seemed very energized by the fruits of his concentrated training.

Takayuki Suzuki showed off the results of his winter training

On the other hand, Mei Ichinose, a member of the Rio Paralympics Japan national team who does most of her training in Australia, and who competed in multiple events in this tournament, including the 100 m Freestyle (S9), 100m Butterfly (S9), was unable to clear the qualifying standards for any of her events. “I’d worked so long for this meet…” she said, unable to hold back her tears.

The Japan National Team for the Rio Paralympics, and Their Steady Work

Making progress also were the long-time para-swimmers—those that have competed in multiple Paralympics. Takuro Yamada, bronze medalist in the 50m Freestyle (S9) event at the Rio Paralympics, came in with a time of 26.43 seconds in that same event. Commenting on his time—a mere 0.01 seconds past the qualifying standard of 26.44 seconds—he cocked his head, looking relieved. “It’s weird, because I was feeling really good in the warm-ups…” He went on, discussing how in his winter training he’d worked on pushing himself through a race physically, with strength. “But the pool here, the water feels light,” he said. Already, he seemed to be thinking towards the 2020 meet, where the qualifying standards for Tokyo would undoubtedly be set even higher than in this one.

Takuro Yamada, who just barely managed to qualify for the World Championships

48-year old Mayumi Narita, a long-time para-swimmer, also managed to clear the qualifying standard for the 50m Backstroke (S5) event. Since last December, she had incorporated some rigorous training methods—swimming with two parachutes tied to her body—and in this meet, achieved a time of 47.76 seconds. “I was nervous today, but it feels really good, especially since for the longest time I couldn’t break past 48 seconds,” she said, smiling.

Long-time para-swimmer Mayumi Narita cleared the qualifying standard for the 50m Backstroke event

Tomotaro Nakamura was the next to clear a qualifying standard—in his case for the 100m Breaststroke (SB6)—while also setting a new Japan record for the event. He was unable, however, to clear the 1 minute 21.97 second Japan record he had set while in the SB7 class, before his reassignment to SB6. “I want to take this frustration and let it all out in the World Championships,” he said, already looking towards the future.

text by Asuka Senaga
photo by X-1

Next >>> Go on to Part II

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