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National Training Center = The Key to Para-Athlete Growth?!: Behind-the-Scenes at the New NTC East

Indoor Training Center (East), a new facility built for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, was established in the summer of 2019 as an expansion of the AJINOMOTO National Training Center (NTC).

The facility is unique in that it will be used for both the Olympics and the Paralympics, with priority use limited to para-athletes working towards the Paralympics. Now, approximately six months after it opened, NTC East has become a haven for para-athletes who, despite training to win medals in the Paralympics, were having difficulty securing training grounds and training efficiently.

Athletes from various sports come in and out of the front lobby, with its open, expansive feel

Universal Design, But Still Room for Improvement

There’s braille on the handrails inside the building, and there are no steps leading into any of the rooms. The facility as a whole was based on the concept of universal design, with the understanding that para-athletes would comprise the majority of its user base. The existing building, NTC West, had also contributed to an increase in competitive ability for all of the athletes, with Olympic and Paralympic athletes motivating and inspiring one another since Japan’s top para-athletes were approved to use the facility. Still, however, the building had not been designed specifically for para-athletes, and there’d been athletes who found it difficult to use.

The entrance to the fencing grounds has a wheelchair fencing pictogram alongside the fencing one, expressing the “oneness” between the Olympics and the Paralympics

“There’s a building for accommodations, which makes training camps here extremely efficient for wheelchair athletes. We’re very grateful,” said Head Coach Shinpei Oikawa of the men’s Japan national wheelchair basketball team, who used NTC East for their training camp just before the World Challenge Cup in August. Indeed, the facility has been received positively by many of its users.

Which isn’t to say that there’s no criticism. “The rooms for accommodation are too small, and are hard to use for two wheelchair athletes with heavy impairments, even with two beds,” and “The system has to be more flexible with their handling of para-athletes with different impairments and different levels of impairment,” are some of the complaints that parasport staff have raised with regards to the facility.

The four shared courts have designated spectator areas outside of the athletes’ range of movement

The fencing grounds features a total of 30 pistes, with a wheelchair fencing pistes always available

Training, Accommodation, and Meals, All in One Place

NTC East, comprised of six above-ground floors and one basement floor, has a total of five designated sports grounds (swimming, table tennis, archery, fencing, and shooting), as well as four shared courts, designed primarily for ball games (wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, boccia, goalball, powerlifting, wheelchair rugby, etc.). The facility is also equipped with a restaurant, a trainer room, and a recovery area. The accommodations facility has a total of 82 rooms (maximum capacity of 143 people), making it possible for athletes to train, eat, sleep, and recover very efficiently, all in the same building.

The pool has 10 lanes, and even has equipment that allows athletes to capture their underwater movements on video

Construction for NTC East was completed at the end of June 2019, with various facilities made available to athletes starting the next month. Uchu Tomita, a blind swimmer and a medal contender for the Tokyo Paralympics, moved his training base from the pool at his university to NTC East. With how difficult it is for blind swimmers to swim in a straight line, Tomita had run the risk of colliding into other swimmers while training at his university pool, and it had been difficult, in general, for him to train in the kind of environment he’d encounter in actual tournaments.

It seems like a no-brainer—the more training environments are made available to these high-level athletes, the more likely we are to win more medals at the Paralympics.

In one corner of the lobby, there are posts engraved with the names of past Olympic and Paralympic medalists

Not Just a Training Hub: Athletic Conditioning

There are scales for wheelchair athletes placed in various areas of the building, and the facility as a whole offers an incredible level of support with regards to nutrition and conditioning.

The exhibit corner, which introduces the history of parasports and works to drive understanding and popularization of the sports themselves; it even has a photo spot

Something that’s been rated particularly highly amongst the athletes is the food. The meals provided in the facility come with information as to their nutritional data, calories, etc., and apparently taste good too. Using a nutritional evaluation system called “mellon II,” all athletes need to do is to take a photo of their meal with a tablet, and they’ll get all their nutritional data shown in a graph. Indeed, we’ve heard that many athletes have undergone significant changes in their eating habits since they started training at NTC East.

Japanese boccia athletes, whose goal is to win a medal in every event at the Tokyo Paralympics, also hold their training camps at NTC East. “It’s so innovative, this system of quantifying the physical condition of these boccia players. We’re very excited, considering the top athletes competing now will most likely serve as role models for future players,” said Coach Mitsuteru Murakami of the Japan national team, with a smile.

The showers are also equipped with chairs, wheelchairs, etc.

A warm bath and a cold bath are placed next to each other (contrast bath) for athletes to use for recovery purposes

A Training Hub for the Post-2020 Era?

Other indoor parasport training hubs include the para badminton gym Hulic Nishikasai Gymnasium (Edogawa City, Tokyo) and the Nippon Foundation Para Arena (Minato City, Tokyo), which opened in June 2018.

In Japan, there’s been a persistent shortage of parasport facilities that are available on an everyday basis. As such, the establishment of training hubs has become a major point of concern for various athletes and parasport organizations, as they look to their training and the popularization of their sports following the Tokyo Paralympics.

The lines used for boccia are a permanent fixture on the court, which is made of the same Taraflex® material as in the Paralympics

“A court with the same Taraflex ground as the Paralympics, the video equipment, the nutritional support… We’re incredibly blessed to have this kind of training environment. With NTC East, we can cram what before would’ve been five days’ worth of training into just three days of training camp. If we get less access to training facilities after the Tokyo Paralympics, we’ll probably have to train at more efficient facilities like NTC East,” said Coach Murakami of boccia.

As a new parasport training hub, NTC East is sure to drive competitive ability amongst para-athletes. But will it also help change the environment surrounding parasports? Time will tell.

The facility also offers training equipment for wheelchair athletes

The elevators, which have a capacity of 30 people, are designed to be comfortable even for those on sports wheelchairs, which are wider than regular wheelchairs

text by Asuka Senaga
photo by Haruo Wanibe

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