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Todd Nicholson - Part I | Parasports in Japan, Post-2020: Some Suggestions from Canada

The “oneness” of the Olympics and Paralympics is coming increasingly into focus as we move towards Tokyo 2020. The National Training Center, which serves as the training hub for many of Japan’s top athletes, is in use by both Olympic and Paralympic athletes, and it was recently announced that Olympic and Paralympic athletes would be wearing the same official uniform for the Opening Ceremony and other events, for the first time in the Games history.

At the center of this Olympic/Paralympic “oneness” in Canada—host of the Vancouver Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2010—is Paralympic gold-medalist Todd Nicholson. Nicholson, a five-time Paralympian for ice sledge hockey (current para ice hockey), is now working to shore up the Canada national teams for both the Olympics and the Paralympics.

Nicholson competed in the Vancouver Paralympics, held in his home country

In Canada, he says, athletes who get results are celebrated equally, regardless of whether they compete in the Olympics or the Paralympics—something that we have yet to see, perhaps, in Japan. We asked Nicholson, who helps lead the world of parasports in Canada, about his thoughts.

What is the effect of a home-country Paralympic Games?

――How do you feel about the way things are in Japan?

First of all, the technology in Japan is incredible. When I came to Japan last October, I had the chance to be up in a high-rise looking out over the night scenery on some reclaimed land. I’m always amazed at what Japan is able to do, technology-wise, to transform their limited land and their oceans. I feel like Canada wouldn’t even be able to come close.

――What do you feel is different between Canada and Japan?

When you go to meetings with experts and such in Japan, the participants are mostly male. Though I do feel that’s been changing some recently, I still feel there are more opportunities for women in Canada and in other countries. I think this is related to how much easier it is in these countries to get time off from work for child care or illness, for example, than in Japan.

――That’s true—my image of people in North America is that they make full use of their time off.

Whether the Canadian style of work is suited for Japan is a different discussion. But I will say that Canadians do make a clear distinction between their work and their personal lives, and they make sure to enjoy their time off. And a lot of people watch and play sports during their leisure time—regardless, of course, of impairment.

The ice hockey venue in Vancouver was filled with calls of “GO CANADA GO!”

――In Japan, there’s been some talk about how the “barrier-free mentality” still isn’t very widespread, even with the Tokyo Paralympics fast approaching. Perhaps if we were able to see a more diverse array of people represented in our daily lives, we wouldn’t be as hesitant in our interactions with people with impairment.

Japan is obviously different from Canada in terms of culture, habits, etc., and I do think it’ll take some time before Japanese people are able to change their perception of people with impairment. But I do feel like there’s been steady change, compared to when I competed in the 1998 Paralympic Games in Nagano.
And as for the effect of a home-country Paralympic Games? Of course that will also have an impact. With Canada, it was Vancouver 2010 that became the catalyst for social change, with things like educational programs and media coverage increasing the visibility of parasports in the country as a whole.

――And I’m assuming, of course, that Paralympians are a big part of this kind of social change.

If you want to change society, you need people that’ll drive that change. That’s why I think it’d be amazing if Canada could have a para-athlete that’s also a world-class star.
We have Chantal Petitclerc, for example, who’s won a total of 14 gold medals in wheelchair racing, but she’s not as well-known as Wayne Gretzky, who’s known worldwide—and of course in Canada—as an ice hockey legend. There’s also Terry Fox, who’s famous in Canada as the runner with the prosthetic leg, and our hero Rick Hansen, who traveled the world in a wheelchair, but they didn’t become famous solely through their performance in competitive sports. So I think it’d be amazing for us to have a hero who’s able to achieve this triumph in the world of sports.

――The Canada national team was able to win a total of 28 medals, including 8 gold medals, in the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Paralympic Games. Wouldn’t you say Canada is close to finding its star?

I was team leader for Team Canada in PyeongChang 2018, and I’d set this goal, in the beginning, to have at least two heroes—people who anybody in the country would recognize—by the end of it. Sadly, that didn’t happen. We do have veteran athletes like Brian McKeever of cross-country skiing, who rose to prominence as part of the national team for Vancouver 2010, but nobody yet who’s reached the level that I’m hoping for.

PROFILE / Todd Nicholson

Born in Ottawa, Canada. Five-time Paralympian for ice sledge hockey (current para ice hockey). Won a bronze medal in Lillehammer 1994, a silver medal in Nagano 1998, a gold medal in Torino 2006, then retired after Vancouver 2010. Served as Chairperson of the IPC Athletes’ Council and Member of the IPC Governing Board from 2010 to 2017. Has served as the Chair of Own the Podium, an organization that works to strengthen the competitive ability of the Canada national team for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, since 2018.

This article is continued on Todd Nicholson - Part II | Olympic and Paralympic “Oneness” as the Key to Strengthening Ability

text by Asuka Senaga
photo by X-1

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