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[Road to Beijing 2022] Taiki Kawayoke, Cross-country Skier, Makes Restart with World Cup Gold Medal

The World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup in Sapporo, Japan, which wrapped up the 2018–2019 season, became a tournament etched deeply in cross-country skier Taiki Kawayoke’s memory.

He won the men’s middle-distance (free-style) standing event on day 3 and came in third in the short-distance (classic-style) standing event held on the last day. He raised his arm triumphantly in the air at the finish line of the middle-distance event in which he took first place.

He said, “I’d won a gold and bronze in the classic-style, but I hadn’t thought that I could yet seize a win in the free-style, which consists of skate skiing, so it was a really emotional moment for me.”

Kawayoke capped the season with his arm raised triumphantly in the air

The small, 161-cm-tall skier enjoyed the taste of victory as he was hoisted in the air on the winners’ podium by the second-place winner from Poland and the French skier who came in third.

Kawayoke stood in the middle of the winners’ podium for the men’s free-style middle-distance standing event (10 m) and was hoisted in the air by the second- and third-place winners

First Encountered Cross-country Skiing During Elementary School

Born in Toyama Prefecture in 2001, Taiki Kawayoke was born missing some fingers on his hands and feet. He tried skiing for the first time during elementary school when he was invited to go by a cousin. When he was in third grade, his father took him to participate for the first time in a para Nordic skiing camp. That was in the spring of 2010, not long after Japanese para Nordic skiing ace Yoshihiro Nitta won a gold medal at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. Since then, he followed after his idol Nitta, entering the All-Japan High School Ski Tournament and other competitions and pursuing a path like those of other skiers aiming for the Olympic Games.

During training, he sometimes uses ski poles, but this is not the case in competitions, where he pumps his arms fiercely as he skis. He has two toes on his left foot and three toes on his right foot and wears his ski boots with original shoe insoles that keep his remaining toes from leaning inward.

Kawayoke exhibited amazing skills in his forte, the uphill portions of the course at the Sapporo 2019 World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup

Kawayoke is in Sport Class LW5/7 (upper limb impairment). Although in a different sport class, he placed ahead of Nitta, who placed fourth, in the short-distance (classic-style) standing event at Sapporo 2019. He showed that he was the new ace who will be leading the Japan National Team in para Nordic skiing.

Kawayoke made his debut in the Paralympic Games at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, where suspended Russian Nordic para skiers were ineligible to participate. However, he does have Russian rivals with similar impairments. That means that we may be seeing some intense competition against the powerful Russian team for the gold medal at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.

“I’ve been getting into the groove since PyeongChang and a good tide seems to be approaching. But sometimes, my core seems to be off center at times, and it can feel like I am forcing the skiing. I watched videos of other cross-country para skiers, and I can see that I have some ways to go to catch up technically with the skiers of other countries. I want to train hard in such areas and win as many World Cups as I can so that I can win the overall title next season.”

Kawayoke is continuing to make a challenge to achieve greater heights in his athletic career, where the Beijing Winter Paralympics and gold medals await.

A New Life Begins at an Acclaimed Ski Club

Taiki Kawayoke, with his gold medal and a big smile on his face at the Sapporo 2019 World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup

After finishing his high school cross-country career with a gold medal win, Kawayoke moved from Toyama Prefecture to Tokyo during cherry blossom season. He knocked on the doors of Nihon University’s acclaimed ski club.

He began his university life living in a dorm with other members of the ski club, feeling no distance between them. He said, “The room that I share with three other older students is nicer than I’d imagined. There are a lot of chores that we have to do, like clean the room, but I really appreciate more than anything that they serve us good, balanced meals.”

Before enrolling, Kawayoke had said, “Nihon University is a powerhouse. If I can compete there, then I think I would be able to compete against anyone in Japan, so I’d like to do my best and start by becoming able to beat the older students in the club.”

Now that he is there, he said, “The older students really eat a lot. They lift weights that are a lot heavier than the ones I’m using. There is so much for me to learn from them.”

Perhaps influenced by such students, Kawayoke gained more than four kilograms in just two months after starting at Nihon University. He said, “I don’t feel like my body is heavy yet, so I want to do more to build muscle. I also want to learn through the university’s classes training methods that are suitable for me as well as about nutrition and ways to move my body efficiently.”

Eyes are on Taiki Kawayoke and his dynamic development going forward. We look forward to seeing him compete during the Reiwa period and become a brilliantly shining star.

Eighteen-year-old Kawayoke is the next-generation ace of the para Nordic skiing Japan National Team

text by Asuka Senaga
photo by X-1

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