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Tokyo 2020 Equestrian Sports: Top Athletes Compete in the Tokyo 2020 Arena (All Japan Championships)

The 2020 All Japan Para Equestrian Championships was held in the main arena at the JRA Equestrian Park between November 27 and 29. Five athletes who are top contenders to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games were among those who took part in the tournament. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 has made it difficult to compete overseas, many athletes have been unable to ride the horses with whom they planned to participate in selection tournaments. Against this backdrop, they took to the arena that they hope to perform in next summer to see where they stand.

Miyaji and Chinju Aim for Their Second Paralympic Games

Among the Japanese athletes who have already cleared the minimum 62% requirement for participating in Tokyo 2020, Mitsuhide Miyaji, who represented Japan in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, holds the highest mark.

Since Miyaji’s main horse lives in the Netherlands, he entered the Championships with the Japanese-born Orobass, who he competes with in domestic tournaments. In the Team Test held on Day 1 and the Individual Test held on Day 2, Miyaji scored an average of over 64%. However, in the Individual Freestyle Test on Day 3, he lost the Grade II 1st place to the 60-year-old new ace, Junichiro Okawa. At the end of the tournament, Miyaji grimaced and said, “I wanted to enjoy it, but…the horse and I were out of tune (for the Individual Freestyle).”

Miyaji had a strained look on his face after completing his performance on Day 3

The arena, newly renovated for Tokyo 2020, uses surface footing comprised of sand and felt that follows international standards. Compared to the sand that the athletes usually train on, the surface has a greater grip, making it less slippery.

Miyaji commented that his horse seemed to stumble a little on the unfamiliar footing. This experience will no doubt be a valuable piece of knowledge for Tokyo 2020. Following his disappointing result at Rio 2016, where he ended in 11th place, Miyaji will continue to work hard to prepare for his second Paralympic Games.

Compared to the arena at Rio 2016, the Equestrian Park is structured so that the arena and bleachers are closer together. Miyaji’s wife, Yumiko, who acts as his commander said, “I’m glad, since being closer makes it easier for my voice to carry.” She seemed to take the tournament as good practice for the Paralympic Games.

At the end of the tournament, Chinju said she was able to get a rough feel for Tokyo 2020

Mina Chinju (Grade I) is the other veteran rider who has experience competing in the Paralympic Games. She demonstrated excellent steadiness and scored above 65% on all three days of the Championships. So far, she has been unable to produce satisfactory results with international horses, so she wants to compete in Tokyo 2020 with Gianna, who she rode at the Championships.

Competing in this tournament allowed Chinju to check out the new facilities. She said, “The stables are really big. In fact, everything felt big. I was surprised that the stable ceilings even have air conditioning. It’s a really good facility.”

After being renovated, the stables now have higher ceilings to ensure good airflow. According to Takahiro Nishio, an advisor of the Japan Racing Association (JRA), “The air conditioning can be lowered to 25°C, so we’re fully equipped to handle the summer heat.” They tried out the air conditioning during a test event for the Olympic Games in 2019 and it was so cool that the athletes said they were cold. The facility is also equipped with a mist shower, which reassures athletes who are hoping to compete in Tokyo 2020 but have horses who dislike the summer.

Stables equipped with air conditioning; there are 320 stalls in all and one building can house up to 40 horses
ⒸAtsushi Mihara

Takashima and Kennedy-H Showed Superb Performances!

Inaba and Casanova, who earned high marks throughout the Championships

Meanwhile, how did the Championships go for the three athletes hoping to participate in the Paralympic Games for the first time? Sho Inaba (Grade III), who is carrying a lot of expectations as Japan’s ace athlete, earned great marks that put him in 1st place overall on Day 1 and Day 3. However, his goal was to score 70% with Casanova, his own horse with whom this was his second time competing in a big tournament. In both the Team Test and Individual Test, his score was in the 65% range. Inaba didn’t hide his disappointment and said, “It was good that we got to experience the actual arena, but I need higher scores to be able to compete on a world stage.” He vowed to improve even more, saying, “I hope both Casanova and I can come back next year in our best conditions.”

20-year-old Yoshigoe looked to gain experience to participate in Tokyo 2020

The Championships allowed each athlete to enter with up to two horses. The only one who did so on all three days was Soshi Yoshigoe (Grade II), who is the youngest designated training athlete for Tokyo 2020 in equestrian sports. Although his results weren’t the best, he has set a high goal for himself, hoping to win a medal at Tokyo 2020. He spoke with confidence, saying, “Since I’m still 20, I participated in this tournament because I wanted to gain experience and be able to ride well on any horse.” He added that he’ll be using the remaining time to train through trial and error.

Katsuji Takashima (Grade IV) entered the Championships with Kennedy-H, who he has competed with for four years. Despite COVID-19, Takashima has continued to ride and train as usual, which showed in his performance. While his score on Day 1 was in the 62% range, he won the Individual Test with 65.284% on Day 2 as well as the Individual Freestyle Test with 65.250% on Day 3.

Takashima praised Kennedy-H after a good performance

The worldwide battle against COVID-19 doesn’t look like it will end anytime soon. As such, no international tournaments are scheduled to be held in Japan to select the representatives to Tokyo 2020. Therefore, the plan is to select four representatives from the five designated training athletes who have earned high marks during the selection period that started on March 15, 2019.

Results of the 2020 All Japan Para Equestrian Championships
URL | (in Japanese)

text by Asuka Senaga
photo by Jun Tsukida

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