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The 2019 ITU World Triathlon Yokohama is Site of Drama, Tears, Optimism

The ITU World Triathlon Yokohama, the second installment in the ITU World Paratriathlon Series, was held on May 18 at a specially set-up course around Yamashita Park, under clear skies. A total of 70 racers (41 men and 29 women) battled it out across a total of 12 classes (6 for each gender), according to their levels of impairment. Five male and four female racers competed from Japan. Of these, Hideki Uda of the Men’s PTS4 Class (Ambulant) made his way to the winners’ podium in third place, with a time of 1:04:27. Wakako Tsuchida of the PTWC Class (Wheelchair) , who had been hoping to win her third consecutive victory, missed the podium at 4th place, and PTS4 Class Mami Tani came in 2nd, missing her chance at a consecutive victory as well.

Uda the Only Japanese Male Racer to Get to Winners’ Podium

This was Uda’s first time on the winners’ podium at the World Series since coming in 2nd at the Edmonton race in July of last year. Conditions for the swim portion of the triathlon were good, with the water temperature at 21 degrees Celsius, and virtually no wind. Though his swim left him behind, in 7th out of 8 racers, he tells us, “I just focused on keeping my own pace.” He went on to rack up the best time in his class in the bike portion—his strength—and made a great showing in the run that followed, pushing on in a furious attempt to overtake the others.

Uda heading to the start line looking tense but confident

“I know now that I can compete at a pretty good level in the bike and run, so now I just want to move higher up in the swim portion,” said Uda. To do this, he’ll have to focus on reducing slowdown in as short a distance as possible.

All in all, however, he says that his condition, both mentally and physically, has been good since the Milano race in April—the first installment in this series, where he came in 4th place. “I’m satisfied with my performance. Some of the racers are saying we don’t have much time [left] until the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, but I think it’s the perfect amount of time,” he said, expressing confidence in his condition. At the same time, he also pointed out a need to improve his overall performance, and was relatively reserved about his goals in the Tokyo Paralympics, telling us, “I want to say a gold medal, but as of now, I want to keep steady and work towards the bronze.”

Uda, who came in 3rd, reflects calmly back on the race

In addition to Uda, Junpei Kimura of the PTWC Class, Kenshiro Nakayama of the PTS2 Class (Ambulant), and Keiichi Sato of the PTS5 Class (Ambulant) all came in 5th place respectively, and Ryu Nakazawa of the PTVI Class (Visual Impairment) came in 11th.

For Tsuchida, a Devastating Penalty in the Bike Portion

As a Paralympics legend and as the winner of the two previous ITU World Triathlon Yokohama races, there was a lot of pressure on Wakako Tsuchida—most of all from herself, considering this was also the very first race of the season. With the Tokyo Paralympics only a year away, however, this race was special. The foreign racers had gotten faster, better, and as if that wasn’t enough, Tsuchida also suffered a drafting1 penalty on a narrow road in the bike portion of the race, and had an entire minute added to her time. Tsuchida herself remained optimistic, however. “I did get that penalty, but the fact that I was able to keep going without getting discouraged, and bring it to the run at the end, and that I was able to overtake some of the others—all these were good. I recall passing two others in the run, which is what I’m good at,” she said, looking back on the race.

1: Drafting: The act of biking immediately behind another racer in order to reduce your own wind resistance.

She made a powerful showing in the second bike portion, but…

Tsuchida’s greatest challenge is the first portion—the swim. She had only officially started training in swimming in January 2018, upon her switch to triathlon. She tells us that she’s finally started being able to go for certain times in the swim portion, but still can’t shake the anxiety around her swim. “It’s hard to win without performing really well in all three portions. I need to up my world ranking or I won’t be able to compete in the Tokyo Paralympics. I want to regroup and work as hard as I can from next month onward so I can earn the right to compete,” she said, showing her drive to compete in what would be her eighth time in the Paralympics (Summer and Winter Paralympics combined).

Tsuchida was all smiles and optimistic after the race

Tani Finds Success in New Prosthesis but Faces a Harsh Reality

For Mami Tani, this was a race full of struggle. Tani’s PTS4 Class was consolidated with the PTS5 Class (Ambulant)—one level lower in terms of the severity of impairment—last November for the Tokyo Paralympics, and this ITU World Triathlon Yokohama race was under this new classification system. As a result, Tani came in 2nd place in her original PTS4 Class, but found herself in 5th when compared against the PTS5 Class as well. “There was a noticeable difference in ability. Honestly, right now I’m just nervous, scared,” she said, tears welling in her eyes.

“It was my first time starting with the PTS5 racers, so I was thinking I wanted to go all out from the beginning,” she said. And indeed, her time in the swim was good, allowing her to keep up with the second cluster of PTS5 racers. She fell behind, however, with the exchange of her prosthesis in the transition2, and was also overtaken by three racers in the bike portion, falling further behind in the process.

2: Transition: The period between the swim to bike, and bike to run portions. It is sometimes known as the “4th portion,” since it counts as part of the time.

Tani ran with a modified prosthesis to shorten her transition time

There was a reason for her time loss. In order to reduce the time spent in transition, she had decided to use the same prosthesis for the bike and run portions, where before she had used different ones. Though she’d had this idea since last year, it was only early March of this year that the prototype for the new prosthesis had actually been completed. As such, she’d only had about two months of training with it before heading into this race, and had lacked the skill and power to perform as well as she’d wanted to.

Tani said she would need to work on improving her bike time in the future

On the other hand, Tani’s support team tells us that not having to exchange her prosthesis has allowed her to save about 50 seconds in the transition. This is good news, and even Tani tells us, “The transition from bike to run went smoothly—that’s one thing that I was able to improve on. I’m happy with the new prosthesis.” She went on, saying, “There’s still a year left [until the Tokyo Paralympics]. I need to train up so I can up my training time, and work on power and skill when it comes to my biking.” She seemed to be pushing herself to look forward.

In addition to Tsuchida and Tani, Yukako Hata of the PTS2 Class and Atsuko Maruo of the PTVI Class both came in 6th place in their respective classes.

“I’m definitely going to do better next year,” said Hata, who came in 6th in the PTS2 Class, with conviction

Sato, who is also a competitive skier, came in 5th in the battleground that was the PTS5 Class

text by Mina Takagi
photo by X-1

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