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Professional Photographers’ Best Picks: The One Shot That Shows the Allure of the Paralympic Games

What do photographers, who get to watch athletes more up-close than anyone else, think is the allure of the Paralympic Games? We asked photographers who follow parasports to pick their best shots and talk a little about them

Takao Ochi: The Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony

“It’s not disability. Ability that counts.” These words by Ludwig Guttmann symbolize the Paralympic Games, and you can feel that principle right from the opening ceremony.

At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, right after the Opening Ceremony began, a man in a wheelchair sped down a huge slope that began at the top of the audience seats. He pulled off a full flip in mid-air and then landed brilliantly on the floor cushion. The eye-catching stunt kicked off the Games to wild applause.
At the Salt Lake City 2002 Paralympic Winter Games, the Opening Ceremony featured Stevie Wonder, a musician with a visual impairment. He entranced everyone in the stadium with his voice. At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, performers wearing golden athletics prostheses and others in wheelchairs used wires to fly over the stadium, surprising the audience.
One of the most memorable moments for me happened at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony. The final torchbearer was a Chinese para athletics athlete who climbed 40 meters up a rope in his wheelchair using only his arms to light the Paralympic flame.

I can’t wait to see the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony next year too.

Ochi Takao
Born in 1979, Ochi began covering parasports in 2000 and has focused on photographing and writing about the athletes’ way of life. He presides over Kan Para Press, a parasports news media outlet, and publishes articles and photos on a page on the NHK website titled Moments of Sensation: Paralympic Gallery. His latest book publication is Change! How Photographing Para Athletes Changed My Life (no English translation).

Yohei Osada: An Athletics Athlete at the London 2012 Paralympic Games

One of the reasons I’m so captivated by parasports is how cool their gears look.

Take racing wheelchairs in athletics for example. When the light hits the frame or the wheels just right, you can take stunning photos. I also play around with how best to shoot the athletes’ performances to show their amazing mastery of the gears.

The open-ended question is: in what ways do I focus on impairments? At London 2012, I hadn’t yet found my answer. But I shot this photo of the Men’s Long Jump event, showing an athlete “being one” with his impairment. It captures the dynamic moment of a French athlete in dreadlocks putting on an incredible performance (editorial annotation: photo features Arnaud Assoumani, who won the silver medal in the F46 Class).

If you look at the photo closely, you can see he has a prosthetic left hand. Back then, I wanted to express impairments subtly in my sports photographs. So I purposefully took a full-body shot instead of a close-up. I wanted to show how cool these people are as athletes.

On a side note, the London 2012 stadium was packed even during the day. Combined with the overwhelming performance of the athletes, the trip was full of surprises.

Osada Yohei
Born in 1986, Osada is a member of Aflo Sport, a team of photographers specializing in sports photography. Since London 2012, he has traveled the world to sports tournaments, including Rio 2016 and the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. His lifework is photographing the wheelchair basketball club team.

Hiroaki Yoda: Wakako Tsuchida at the London 2012 Paralympic Games

Tournaments can be cruel. The Paralympic Games, held once every four years, is no exception.

The first time I photographed athletics athlete Wakako Tsuchida was at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. I knew she was the first Japanese athlete to win both the summer and winter Paralympic Games, but when I actually saw her in the stadium, I was deeply awed by the way she carried herself. As she focused her mind before the 5000-meter race and put on a small smile, she was the image of a strong athlete. During the race, however, she was involved in a large crash and was heavily injured, which prevented her from competing in her main event, the wheelchair marathon.

Four years later, at London 2012, I felt anxious as I waited on the side of the street to photograph the marathon race. I thought, “This is it.” It was Tsuchida’s chance for a comeback and I naturally hoped for her to win. I remember being awed by how she boldly took the lead and led the group. But she fell again and ended up in 5th place. Through my camera lens, I saw her covering her face with both hands just before the finish line, not even trying to hide her disappointment.

Tsuchida’s challenge continues to this day.

There aren’t many athletes with such superhuman strength. Para-athletes are able to compete for a long time, and part of what makes the Paralympic Games so compelling is that we can follow them for an extended period and learn from their many ups and downs.

Yoda Hiroaki
Born in Kanagawa, Yoda was a motorbike road racer before becoming a photographer at the age of 31. After working in a studio, he became a freelancer and now works in many fields, particularly as a portrait photographer for advertisements and magazines. He has photographed five Paralympic Games from Beijing 2008.

edited by Asuka Senaga
key visual by X-1

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