Para Athletics Are Back: Who Will Qualify for Tokyo 2020?
The 2020 Japan Para Athletics Championships heralded the return of major para-sports events in Japan. The event was held over two days on September 5 and 6 at Kumagaya Sports & Culture Park Track & Field Stadium. Originally planned to be held in May, it was postponed due to COVID-19 and held without an audience.
Shunsuke Itani, holder of the 100- and 200-meter Asian record, looked happy that the tournaments are back
Erina Yuguchi, who uses prosthetic legs, smiles after consecutively recording good race times
As of last November, when the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships took place, 16 athletes in athletics had qualified to represent Japan in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. However, COVID-19 subsequently forced the 2020 World Para Athletics Grand Prix and the World Challenge in Okayama to be canceled in March. For the remaining potential athletes who had trained hard to achieve qualifying results, this was a period of unimaginable anxiety. Then Tokyo 2020 was postponed. The athletes were left in limbo for around half a year, not knowing what the future would hold. How did they spend this time and what was on their minds when they resumed competing to pursue their goals next year? We watched their brilliant performances at the Japan Para Athletics Championships and interviewed them.
Akihiro Yamazaki Used the Stay-At-Home Period to Overcome His Weaknesses
The javelin flew through the air as if slicing through the heat. 60.09 meters. It was Akihiro Yamazaki’s last throw of the day in the javelin throw (F46) event. This raised his ranking in the world from No. 7, which is outside the range of being qualified for Tokyo 2020, to No. 5, which puts him within range. He pumped his fist in joy in the direction of the bleachers where his coaches were watching. “I was so frustrated by my results (7th place) at the World Para Athletics Championships. I’m not totally satisfied yet, but this will take me to the next level.”
With his second-best throw result, Yamazaki raised his ranking to No. 5 to win a ticket to Tokyo 2020!
Anju Furuya Sets a New Asian Record after Shaping Up!
Anju Furuya broke her record by a large margin in the 1500-meter event
Anju Furuya made herself known in her hometown of Saitama during the Japan Para Athletics Championships by raising her world ranking to No. 2 in the intellectual impairment class of athletes. No one has been qualified yet in this category for Tokyo 2020. She says endurance is her strength and is hoping to compete in the 1500-meter event at the Paralympic Games. At the Championships, she headed off to a speedy start, leaving behind two veteran runners and staying in the lead during the second half of the race, all the way to the goal. Her time was 4 minutes and 36.56 seconds—a new Asian record. One step closer to earning a place on the Japanese delegation to Tokyo 2020, she said she was very happy during the post-race interview.
Furuya, who became serious about athletics when she was a senior in high school, is now 25 years old. Everyone is looking forward to seeing her run at Tokyo 2020.
Sae Shigemoto Is Working on Speed to Compete Against the World’s Top-Ranking Athletes
Sae Shigemoto won the bronze medal in the 400-meter (T47) event at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games but suffered a crushing defeat last year at the World Para Athletics Championships. Nevertheless, she hopes to make a comeback at Tokyo 2020 and is working on shortening her time during the first half of the 400-meter race, which she excels at. The intense training seems to have paid off as she broke her personal record for the 100-meter race for the first time in four years. This set a new Japanese record. Her 400-meter time was average, but she remained ambitious, saying she could have done better in both races. Nevertheless, she added that she was genuinely happy about setting a new personal record for the 100-meters.
Sae Shigemoto (right) set a new personal record in the 100-meter event
Shigemoto ranks No. 6 in the world, which is just barely within the range of being qualified for Tokyo 2020.
She reflected on the past six months, saying, “I thought the delegation members would be chosen by the end of March, but then it seemed difficult with so many tournaments being canceled. I felt disappointed when Tokyo 2020 was postponed and the members weren’t chosen. Then again, if they had been chosen, I may have slacked off, so I was able to concentrate on training this way. I decided to think of it as an extra year to improve and shorten my time.” She chose to remain positive.
Momoka Muraoka Resolves to Compete in Two Sports
Momoka Muraoka in a good position during the 100-meter event
“To be honest, Tokyo 2020’s postponement makes things harder for me, since winter sports is coming up…” Momoka Muraoka said, referring to the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games where she is hoping to compete in para alpine skiing.
The winter Paralympic gold medalist and holder of the second-best 100-meter (T54) time revealed her concerns in response to questions from the media.
Muraoka announced that she will take on the challenge of competing in both Tokyo 2020 and alpine skiing from the 2020-2021 season. “I didn’t want to give up on either of them. I said I’ll do it, so I’m going to do it,” she said with resolve.
Next Summer’s Gold Medal Hopeful Makes Her Presence Known!
Maya Nakanishi lived up to her title as queen of the World Para Athletics Championships with a new Asian record in long jump
Twelve athletes who are already qualified for Tokyo 2020 participated in the Japan Para Athletics Championships, and Maya Nakanishi was one of them. In the long jump (T64) event, she jumped 5.70 meters, which was 19 centimeters further than her personal best and a new Asian record. Everyone was awed by her outstanding performance, which seemed unaffected by the COVID-19 downtime.
World champion (T52) Tomoki Sato said, “I couldn’t set a new record, but I gave it my all, so I’m happy.”
Shinya Wada (left) broke the Asian record by a large margin in the 1500-meter (T11) event, symbolizing the enduring strength of athletes with visual impairments even during the pandemic
text by Asuka Senaga
photo by X-1