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[Japan Para Swimming Championships] Impressive Results from Young Athletes Aiming Beyond Rio

The Japan Para Swimming Championships, an officially approved event of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), took place on July 17–18 at the Yokohama International Swimming Pool. For the 19 Japanese representatives heading for Rio, this was the last officially approved event before the Paralympic Games. It was a great opportunity to assess their conditions one final time. The event also showcased the performance of young athletes who are aiming for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

Swim team captain Yamada "looks forward to Rio"

Takuro Yamada wants his first medal at Rio

S9 class (functional disability) Takuro Yamada, captain of Rio-qualified Tobiuo Para Japan (nickname of the Japanese representative team), won two races in freestyle, which is his specialty. He finished the 50 meters in 26.41 and the 100 meters in a championship record of 57.67. At the London Olympics four years ago, he finished a disappointing fourth in the 50 meters and fifth in the 100 meters, but these days he is doing better in practice and is in a position to aim for his first medal, judging by both his time and his world ranking.

"Considering my condition at the preliminaries, I thought I would swim the 100 meters a little over 58 seconds, so this result (breaking 58 seconds) was good. The event took place after some physical strain (training camp, etc.), so I think I can get an even faster time if I am in a better condition. I think I need to break 57 seconds to get a medal. I plan to prepare well. I am a little nervous, but I am satisfied with how I am swimming now, so I am mostly looking forward to the games."

Keiichi Kimura, 2012 London Paralympic Game medalist who is now preparing for his third successive Paralympic Games in Rio, won the 100 meters butterfly S11 class (visual impairment) preliminaries, held on the second day, breaking the championship record at 1:03.54. He also won the finals with a time of 1:03.81, but commented on the fall in his time: "This is problematic. The latter half was tough. I don't know what was wrong, but I didn't have a good rhythm."

Keiichi Kimura shoulders expectations for a Rio medal

Kimura was disqualified during the 100 meters breaststroke the day before, due to diving in the wrong direction and going off course. This caused some concerns coming to the butterfly event, but afterwards he said, "It went well," and reassured his supporters with his performance. Japanese Para-Swimming Federation Chairman and seven-time Paralympic athlete Junichi Kawai, who is, like Kimura, a totally blind swimmer, commented, "For blind (visually impaired) swimmers, going off course can happen to anyone. It is just part of the game, so it is important not to dwell on it too much." Kimura recently started a rigorous muscle building routine and is now able to handle stricter and more frequent training. He plans to use the remaining days to prepare for his third Paralympic Games, aiming to finally attain a gold medal.

One athlete making a debut was Airi Ike. She will be swimming seven events at Rio, and attended the championships as a simulation of the Paralympic Games. She swam six races on the first day, including preliminaries and finals, which was a good test of how well she can perform under physical fatigue. She did well, all in all, breaking a national record in the 200 meters individual medley (SM10) at 2:40.96. She said her "body is worn out" after finishing all events, but her expression was cheerful.

The S14 class (intellectual disability) has seven Japanese representatives, who met and motivated each other at the championships. Notable athletes were Satoru Miyazaki, who broke the national record for the 100 meters butterfly with a time of 1:00.17, and Keichi Nakajima, who broke the championship record (55.15) just 0.03 seconds short of the national record.

After the events on the first day, a send-off party was held for the Rio Paralympic Japanese representatives and staff members. Coach Fumiyo Minemura expressed her enthusiasm: "I hope we surpass our London Paralympic results (2 golds, 2 silvers and 4 bronzes: 8 medals in total)."

Hope for athletes not qualified for Rio

The championships also showcased athletes who did not qualify for Rio, as a result of the qualifying competitions in March. S14 class Dai Tokairin broke the Asian record of the 200 meters freestyle (1:58.85) and the Japan record in the 200 meters individual medley (2:12.58). "I was disappointed to have missed the Rio Paralympics, but I will work hard towards the 2018 world championships and 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games."。

Other athletes include S13 class (visual impairment) Uchu Tomita, who broke the Asian record for the men's 400 meters freestyle with a time of 4:39.55, and S7 (functional disability) class Sakura Oike, who broke three national records: the women's 400 meters freestyle (5:47.17), 200 meters individual medley (3:38.12) and the 100 meters freestyle (1:22.67). Many of these young athletes exhibited excellent performances, and we look forward to seeing their further growth.

The championships showed a clear path towards Rio and beyond, and created momentum for Tobiuo Para Japan's performance at the upcoming Paralympic Games.

Airi Ike, joyful at her results

Satoru Miyazaki celebrating a new national record

text by Kyoko Hoshino
photo by X-1
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