Cycling Medalist Hopefuls Happy to Be Back! Cycling Championship Track Race Held with Spectators
Over four days from November 5, the 89th All Japan Cycling Championship Track Race (Elite Para-Cycling) was held at Yamada Green Dome Maebashi in Gunma. Para-cycling events took place over the weekend and featured eight athletes (including a two-person tandem pilot). Spectators were allowed in for free, with safety measures in place against COVID-19, so warm applause from the bleachers cheered the cyclists on.
Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls demonstrated the fun of cycling and drew applause from the bleachers
Sugiura & the Tandem Pair Continue to Break Records
For most of the athletes, this was a new bank. The Championship was held at a velodrome featuring a track with a 335-meter circumference. This is longer than the international standard of 250 meters, such as the one at the Izu Velodrome. Furthermore, this was the first Championship held since the outbreak of COVID-19. The athletes appeared to be a little nervous competing for the first time in a while, but they seemed equally happy to be racing at an official tournament.
Kazuhei Kimura (Men’s B-Class), who is hoping to enter the Paralympic Games for the first time, said, “I was nervous, but it was fun to be competing again for the first time in half a year.” On November 7, he entered the 1km Time Trial and set a new tournament record with a time of 1:04.586. On November 8, he entered the 4km Individual Pursuit. While the result wasn’t outstanding, participating in the Championship undoubtedly became a big motivation for both Kimura and his pilot, Takuto Kurabayashi, to turn up their gear in preparation for Tokyo 2020.
Men’s B-Class cyclist Kazuhei Kimura (right) and pilot Takuto Kurabayashi
Coordination is everything in the two-person tandem race. However, the pair’s training was severely restricted this past spring and summer.
Now, they are back at their training camp. They worked on the timing of their start, brushed up on their teamwork and took on the Championship. While they did well at the tournament, now comes the crucial time for earning the points necessary to compete on the world stage at Tokyo 2020.
“Racing here showed me where we stand. We’re going to work hard in preparation for Tokyo 2020 so that we can give it our all,” Kimura said with determination.
Keiko Sugiura has won medals in the 500m Time Trial at the 2020 UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships
On November 7, the 500m Time Trial was held. Keiko Sugiura (Women’s C3) set a new Japanese record with 41.611 seconds. Applause exploded from the main bleachers and Sugiura bowed her head over and over in gratitude.
Although Sugiura is aiming to win the gold medal in the road event at Tokyo 2020, she feels that competing on the track is also important for improving her skills. To prepare for the Championship, she trained under a track specialist, and while she had issues to overcome like pacing, she said she felt relieved at the relatively good results she left behind at the tournament.
Sugiura rose to prominence after the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, and it seemed like she was steadily improving her performance without any issues. But when she stepped in front of the reporters after the race, she suddenly teared up.
“I’m so relieved that I was able to set a new Japanese record. I feel like I can finally repay the kindness of all the people who helped and supported me.”
The uncertainty that came with Tokyo 2020’s postponement and the stress of not being able to train every day like before—all of that had weighed on Sugiura’s mind. Even the “Queen of Road Races,” who had won numerous world titles, had been mentally affected by the pandemic.
Shota Kawamoto, who pedals with one leg, won in the Men’s C-Class
Shota Kawamoto (Men’s C2), who represented Japan at Rio 2016, won the two events he entered in the Men’s C-Class category (two-wheeled bicycles). He excels in the 3km Individual Pursuit event but fell three seconds short of the Japanese record, which he holds. Nevertheless, when the times were calculated by taking into consideration the different coefficients for different impairment classes, he actually did better than Masaki Fujita (Men’s C3).
He took note of what he needs to work on while staying positive, saying, “Competing in a tournament after this long break was physically taxing. The times weren’t good, but I’m glad I won first place.”
Turning COVID-19 Experiences into Strength
As part of the measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the tournament organizers handed out masks to the spectators, who were required to sit one seat apart from each other. Everyone had to disinfect their hands at the entrance and get their temperatures checked with a thermography camera.
A 37-year-old from Fukushima, who came to cheer on her family had a smile on her face and said, “I’m glad I could come and enjoy the excitement of the tournament live.” When new records were set and races went into a dead heat, even keirin (cycling betting sport) fans who happened to just stop by broke out into applause.
It was definitely different from usual, but many athletes nevertheless expressed their joy of being able to participate in the Championship.
The All Japan Cycling Championship Track Race held at a velodrome
The Japan Cycling Federation (JCF) held this tournament after changing its date and location. Nevertheless, even top cyclists who are already qualified to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, like Yudai Nitta, said holding the tournament was significant.
text by Asuka Senaga
photo by Jun Tsukida