Para-Swimming Fall Meet: Leading Athletes of the Next Generation and Tokyo 2020 Gold Medal Hopeful
On November 7 and 8, the Para-Swimming Fall Meet was held at the Central Sports Miyagi G21 Pool in Rifu Town, Miyagi. The tournament was newly established for athletes designated by the Japanese Para-Swimming Federation and the Japan Swimming Federation for Persons with an Intellectual Disability for intensive training. Athletes hoping to win gold medals at Tokyo 2020 as well as young leading athletes of the next generation stood out with great performances.The Meet was the first para-swimming tournament held in Japan in 10 months.
Great Performances by Sakura Koike & Mikika Serizawa! Female Athletes Are Standing Out More and More
Sakura Koike performed extremely well in the 400m Freestyle event
University student swimmer Sakura Koike returned to competing in tournaments for the first time in a year after injuring her hip. Since failing to be selected as a representative of Japan last year, she went through a hard time but performed excellently at the Meet. Her time for the 400m Freestyle S7 event achieved the Minimum Qualification Standard, which is the standard required to participate in Tokyo 2020.
“My goal for this tournament was to be selected for intensive training again. I’m happy with my time,” she said with a bright look on her face. During the stay-at-home period, she set up a simple pool and swam at home. “I nearly became demotivated sometimes, but I exchanged ideas with other athletes and tried out different things,” she added with a smile.
In the intellectual impairment class, Mikika Serizawa (SB14) established a new Japanese record in the 100m Breaststroke event, which she excels at, with 1:18.90 minutes. It was an improvement from her time at the World Para Swimming Championships last year where she came in 7th place. Expectations are rising that she will be a top contender at Tokyo 2020.
“I did a lot of practice to pick up my speed in the first half of the race. I’m happy I set a new Japanese record. To prepare for Tokyo 2020, I’m going to train hard to reach the Paralympic Qualifying Time at the selection tournament in May 2021,” said Serizawa with determination.
Mikika Serizawa responded to reporters with a smile
A String of New Records by Young Male Athletes!
Kaede Hinata continues to set new records in the class of swimmers who have lost, or are missing, both upper limbs
The men’s group of young athletes was also equally outstanding. In the Butterfly S5 category, Kaede Hinata set two new Japanese records with 38.48 seconds in the 50m event and 1:31.36 minutes in the 100m event. High school swimmer Akito Minai (S10), who doesn’t have an international classification yet, also set a Japanese record in the 100m Butterfly event with 1:01.51 minutes, which is equal to the Asian record. Furthermore, Kota Sugawara set a new Japanese record in the 50m Backstroke S5 event with 41.53 seconds. Despite the pandemic, these upcoming star athletes are continuing to rewrite the records. It will be exciting to see how the 2021 Japan Para Swimming Championships turns out next May, which will ultimately decide who represents Japan at Tokyo 2020.
Propelled by the Return of Tournaments and Being Reunited with Fellow Athletes: Gold Medal Hopeful Naohide Yamaguchi Set a New World Record!
Naohide Yamaguchi bowed and expressed his gratitude after the race
One of the athletes who gave young swimmers a lot of courage is Naohide Yamaguchi in the intellectual impairment (SB14) class. On the first day of the Meet, he set a new world record in the 100m Breaststroke event with 1:04.13 minutes. It was 0.82 seconds faster than the previous record, which Yamaguchi set himself last September at the World Para Swimming Championships.
“Since this was the first para-swimming national meet in a while, I was nervous. But reuniting with my teammates on the Japanese national team helped me set the new world record. I turned all the joy of meeting friends again into strength. I focused on maintaining quick movements and powerful strokes, which let me keep up a good pace during the second half of the race too.”
Yamaguchi’s performance must have come from the confidence he gained during the stay-at-home period, during which he continued to pursue high-level training without ever losing motivation. He had the air of a champion as he calmly responded to questions.
Yamaguchi, Kimura and other athletes entered wearing masks
Ace para-swimmer Keiichi Kimura, who also swam in two events during the two-day Meet, said he was awed by Yamaguchi’s performance. As part of the measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Meet limited the number of athletes who could participate. So there were times when Kimura, who has a visual impairment, swam in the same group as Yamaguchi, who has an intellectual impairment.
Keiichi Kimura returned to Japan from the US, where he had been training prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, and is now continuing to train at the National Training Center
This was Kimura’s first tournament in 11 months, but he said he felt good about the results. “I was alert and excited to be racing after a long break.” He went on to say, “I’m grateful to the organizers for holding the Meet. We, as athletes, also needed to test how to race while taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. I hope these efforts help pave the way to holding the Olympic and Paralympic Games next year.”
Dai Tokairin, another world champion, did well in the 200m Individual Medley SM14 and 100m Butterfly S14 events. He said he continued training at a pool during the pandemic. “My head has been full thinking of measures to prevent the spread of the virus, but I stayed calm and continued practicing,” he said, looking satisfied with his efforts.
Over two days, the Para-Swimming Fall Meet produced one world record, two Asian records and 12 Japanese records. Takumi Uegaki, the coach of the Japanese national para-swimming team summarized the event by saying, “The young athletes’ growths stood out. I saw it as growth resulting from training as well as growth that comes from physical maturity.” He also went on to praise the athletes. “Many of them hadn’t competed in over a year. I’d like to commend all of them for participating in the Meet despite the concerns they certainly must have had.”
The Meet was held without spectators and went mostly according to schedule despite an interruption caused by equipment issues
text by TEAM A
photo by Sayaka Masumoto