33rd All-Japan Shooting Para Sport Rifle Championships: A Stepping-Stone to the World Cup!
On November 7 and 8, the 33rd All-Japan Shooting Para Sport Rifle Championships was held at the NEX Rifle Shooting Range (Ishinomaki City, Miyagi). Since the outbreak of COVID-19, tournaments in Japan and abroad were canceled one after another. So the Championships was the first shooting para sport tournament to be held on a national scale in roughly eight months. Among the participants were those who hadn’t competed in a tournament since last year’s Championships. Some, such as Mika Mizuta (Air Rifle Prone SH2 (Mixed)), are already designated training athletes for the Paralympic Games with big expectations for Tokyo 2020, while others are aiming to lead the sport post-Tokyo 2020. The mood was intense as everyone battled for the top.
A Steady Hand Even After a Year of Not Competing
Mizuta demonstrated outstanding stability. She said, “I hadn’t competed in a year, so I was trying to remember my routines leading up to and on the day of the tournament.” Nevertheless, her result of 633.2 points was just 0.1 points lower than her score at last year’s Championships. She commented that she was able to perform as usual, but since she’s always aiming to better her results with each tournament, she wasn’t completely satisfied.
Mizuta’s goal is to improve her score with every tournament
Mizuta reflected on her performance, saying, “I made changes to my equipment here and there during the stay-at-home period, so things didn’t feel quite right. But I hope to adjust that over time. With this sport, it’s important to shoot all 60 rounds with the same stance to ensure stability, but I’m not doing that yet. Also, one of my issues is that I take too much time. Not just today, but always. I want to be able to shoot quicker and give myself a little more breathing space.”
While Mizuta faltered in the final sixth series, she was still able to shoot steadily. She analyzed her game plan, saying, “I don’t pressure myself into thinking I need to hit dead center. Instead, I tell myself, ‘If you hit 10.6 points or above per shot, good. If it’s lower, not good.’ I think that’s what works for me.”
Relief and Disappointment for Athletes Hoping to Qualify for Tokyo 2020
For athletes hoping to qualify for Tokyo 2020 on their own, the Championships resulted in relief for some and disappointment for others.
Sasaki drew on his mental growth to produce results
Like Mizuta, Daisuke Sasaki (Air Rifle Prone SH1 (Mixed)) was in great shape. He won, scoring 634.3 points in the qualification round and 250.1 points in the final round. This was his first tournament since the FY 2020 Designated Training Athlete Selection Tournament held in February. “I haven’t felt so nervous in a long time. I’m worn out,” he said. But he had a bright expression on his face and looked satisfied. A part of that stemmed from the reading he did during the stay-at-home period.
“My issue was getting too nervous during tournaments, so I read many mental training books during the time I couldn’t train. I put what I had read into practice today and it worked. I still couldn’t shoot rhythmically, but I think it was good practice on figuring out how to fix that.”
Sasaki also said that being able to train at the Ajinomoto National Training Center East (NTC East) led to improving his competitive skills.
“Training at NTC East has been a huge plus. The biggest benefit is that I can ask top able-bodied athletes for advice. They gave me a lot of advice that I’m putting into practice now, like immediately resting when I feel like my eyes are getting tired.”
Yamauchi emphatically said he wants to be able to compete on the world stage
Meanwhile, Yuki Yamauchi (Air Pistol SH1 (Men)) looked back on his performance critically, saying, “I’ve never had such bad results.” At one point, he shot 0 points and couldn’t seem to keep his shots in the center. As a result, he came in third place out of three.
“Since I hadn’t competed in a while, I put my energy in the wrong places. At first, I was too ambitious for points, which made me overly cautious when pulling the trigger. Then in the series where I shot the 0 points, I refocused on going on the offensive, which is how I usually shoot. So the first half of that series was good, but in the second half, I got too offensive and shot 0.”
Yamauchi added that his coach said he had made some good shots too, and to work on shooting more of them. So while he was critical of his performance, he wasn’t bitter. This likely stemmed from the confidence of knowing he had done everything he could during the months when he couldn’t compete. It included shaving and adjusting the grip of his pistol to better fit his hand, reviewing the way he holds the grip and working on strengthening his core muscles. Perhaps the reason he was “too ambitious for points” was a manifestation of his confidence in himself.
“Today’s results unmistakably show where I stand right now. But I have to be able to shoot over 560 points to compete on the world stage. So I’m going to go back to the basics and work on substantially improving my skills,” Yamauchi said with determination.
Who Will Qualify for Tokyo 2020?
The Championships was held with strict measures in place against COVID-19, such as placing acrylic partitions between shooters and having nurses present
In the shooting para sport, the minimum requirement for athletes to qualify for Tokyo 2020 is to score above a certain point twice at officially recognized tournaments. Furthermore, they have to produce results at a designated tournament to earn a direct slot allocation. Mizuta obtained a direct slot in October 2019 at the Sydney 2019 World Shooting Para Sport Championships, which qualified her for Tokyo 2020.
Due to the disarray caused by COVID-19, the next opportunity for athletes to earn a direct slot is at the World Shooting Para Sport World Cup scheduled to be held in Lima, Peru in May 2021. Designated training athletes for Tokyo 2020, including Sasaki and Yamauchi, have their sights set on the World Cup and will be preparing for it.
All the athletes were happy to be competing again
Yusuke Watanabe, winner of the Air Rifle Prone SH1 (Mixed) class is also hoping to participate in Tokyo 2020
text by TEAM A
photo by X-1