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Official Para Canoe Events at Tokyo 2020 Venue Sea Forest Waterway: Lessons in Tournament Operation

The Japan Para Canoe Championships and the Tokyo 2020 test event READY STEADY TOKYO – Canoe Sprint & Para Canoe were held this month at the Sea Forest Waterway, the official venue for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Japan Para Canoe Championships was held at the same time as the able-bodied tournament, on September 6, and the test event was held from September 12-15.

The Sea Forest Waterway, located on the coastal area of the Tokyo Bay

Japan Para Canoe Championships: First Qualifiers for Japan Representatives, Towards Tokyo 2020

The 2019 Japan Para Canoe Championships, held at the same time as the 2019 SUBARU Japan Canoe Sprint Championships, took place in the lingering summer heat, in temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius.

This was Seryu’s first race after qualifying for the Tokyo Paralympic Games ©X-1

At the center of attention was Monika Seryu, who qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games after coming in 5th in Women’s KL1 at the ICF Canoe Sprint & Paracanoe World Championships in August. This was her first race after her qualification, and “I was able to go into it a bit more relaxed than usual,” she said. Now that the dates for her races in the Paralympic Games have been released, “I want to be more greedy working towards my goal of winning a medal next year,” she said emphatically.

And in the back of her mind, supporting her this winter during the hardest of her training, will be the support and encouragement she received from the audience on this day. Seryu is a local of Koto City, where this venue is located, and had been cheered on more fervently than most of the other athletes. “I’m very happy to have been able to experience this,” she said, flashing her trademark smile.

The other canoeists face an uphill battle in terms of qualification. In order to qualify for Tokyo 2020 on their own, they will have to win a spot on the Japan national team at the ICF Paracanoe World Cup next May. To do this, they will have to perform very well at this tournament, or the meet that will be held in Komatsu City, Ishikawa Prefecture next March.

Wataru Horie (Men’s KL3), who came in 4th, said about his next race, “There’s a lot I have to work on in terms of my starts and my balance in general. They’ll take whatever time is better, so this time doesn’t matter anymore.”

Horie, who vowed to do better on his next race ©X-1

READY STEADY TOKYO – Canoe Sprint & Para Canoe: Canoeists from 25 Countries Battle It Out

With the Paralympic Games looming next year, canoeists from 25 countries gathered for READY STEADY TOKYO – Canoe Sprint & Para Canoe in order to see and experience the Tokyo 2020 venue for themselves.

Fernando Rufino de Paulo was the champion of Men’s KL2

The two champions, who beat the winners of the previous World Championship, were Fernando Rufino de Paulo (Brazil) and Jeanette Chippington (U.K.). Both were extremely impressed with the Sea Forest Waterway, saying, “It’s an incredible venue. It’s beautiful and it’s operated amazingly.”

Their only qualm was about the sea breeze. “There’s strong wind, just because the ocean is so close. This kind of competitive environment is rare. For next year, I’m going to try not to think about how it might hinder me, and instead use it to my advantage—and win two medals,” said Chippington, about her goal for Tokyo 2020.

Chippington (Women’s VL2), smiling and waving

For many of the canoeists, who race mostly in freshwater, another point they needed to adjust to was racing on seawater. “The water was salty [laughs]. I’ve been in a lot of tournaments inside and outside of Japan, but racing on 100% salt water was a first for me. Some people feel in these cases that they’re more buoyant than usual, and some people don’t really feel it all that much,” said Japan’s Takanori Kato, who came in 8th in Men’s KL2, looking back on the race.

Takanori Kato, who came in 8th in Men’s KL2

Esteban Farias (Italy), who was crowned champion of Men’s KL1, confessed, “I hadn’t trained on the ocean, so it did bewilder me at first,” going on to say that he would train on the ocean in the future.

Anti-Heat Experiment: “Snowfall” on the Venue

On the 13th, during the test event, there was snowfall in a part of the venue.

The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games had crushed a 300kg block of ice in a snow machine, and had the resulting “snow” fall onto the venue for five minutes starting 10:10 A.M., as part of an experiment for combating heat in Tokyo 2020. When the sleet-like ice particles burst out of the funnel, amidst a loud rumbling noise, the audience erupted in “oohs” and “aahs.” The snow, however, fell only on some parts of the audience.

The “snow” that came down on parts of the venue accumulated on the ground

There was no change, however, in the temperature around the stands, which remained at 25.1 degrees, and the heat stroke danger index (WBGT), which remained at 21.9 degrees, even after the snowfall.

Takashi Okamura, Director of the Main Operation Center, said, “The snow machine was an idea we came up with in mid-August. We had to prepare for it in a short period of time, because we wanted to attempt everything we could. It wasn’t able to cool everything down, but it was able to help the audience feel refreshed. And there’s also the amusement factor.”

The Sea Forest Waterway, which seats approximately 2,000 people, was originally meant to have a roof over all of the seats. Due to budget restrictions, however, they were only able to cover half of the stands with the roof, which has required them to come up with measures to combat heat for the audience. Said Director Okamura, “As to whether or not we’ll actually use it in Tokyo 2020—we’ll have to consider how cost-effective it is, and discuss its implementation along with the other measures.” The costs of the operation have not been released.

The stands, some of which come under direct sunlight ©X-1

Calls for More Multi-Purpose Bathrooms and Training Facilities

“I didn’t experience any trouble with regards to the barrier-free nature of the venue. It was smooth going getting on and off the canoe as well,” said many of the foreign athletes. Japan’s Kato, however, commented on the relative lack of multi-purpose bathrooms. “I don’t have a complete understanding of the number of bathrooms in the venue, but there’s only one on the 2nd floor, which is where the athlete area is. There are a lot of athletes that want to go to the bathroom before their races, so I think for the real thing it’d be better to have more, even if they’re temporary.”

There’s also the fact that for many athletes, conditioning—even during tournaments—involves weight training. Kato says he heard concerns about whether there would be weight training equipment available at the venue or at their accommodations.

The venue is designed to be barrier-free, to make it easier for athletes with lower-body paralysis to get into their canoes

And for the spectators, the problem, it seems, will be how hard the venue is to get to.

“I’ve been to all kinds of canoe tournaments and this is a wonderful venue, since it gives you a clear view of the races from start to finish. They should really make good use of it for Tokyo 2020,” said a woman in her 40s from Ishikawa Prefecture, who had come to watch the Japan Para Canoe Championships. Two women who had come to cheer for Seryu said, “The venue is very open and it’s in a good location. We were able to watch the races up close and feel their intensity.” Many people, however, pointed out how difficult the venue was to get to—namely, the fact that it’s not accessible via public transportation. The operation of shuttles should ease this issue during the actual Olympic and Paralympic Games.

text by TEAM A
photo by Haruo Wanibe

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