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Battle to Become Japan’s Top Powerlifter! A Report on the All Japan Para Powerlifting Championship

Over two days, on January 30 and 31, the 21st All Japan Para Powerlifting International Invitation Championship was held at the Chiyoda Sports Center in Tokyo. Since it was held during the COVID-19 state of emergency, international athletes were not invited and no spectators were allowed in. Nevertheless, the air was abuzz with excitement and four new Japanese records were born (including in the junior category).

Tomohiro Kouse Set a New Japanese Record and Won in the 59-kg Class for a Second Consecutive Year

Tomohiro Kouse in the 59-kg class shouted his joy after a successful “special” fourth lift for the record
photo by Hiroki Nishioka

Of the 33 athletes who participated, the one who showed the fiercest fighting spirit was Tomohiro Kouse in the men’s 59-kg class. The 27-year-old began powerlifting in 2016 and won the Championship for the first time last year, defeating Yuya Toda, who until then was Japan’s reigning champion. This year, Kouse once again got ahead of the 38-year-old technician Toda and it remained to be seen whether he could defend his title as Japan’s champion.

For their first lifts, Toda and Kouse easily lifted 131 kg and 133 kg respectively. Then they both chose to lift 137 kg for their second lifts and that was when things started to change. Toda lowered the bar to his chest, but couldn’t lift it back up. Meanwhile, Kouse shouted, “Ready!” and steadfastly completed the bench press, earning three white lights. Needing to catch up, Toda raised the weight by 1 kg and attempted 138 kg for his third lift. Unfortunately, he failed and the match was decided. Toda looked crestfallen as his Championship match came to an end.

Former champion Yuya Toda aims higher alongside a worthy opponent
photo by Haruo Wanibe

That, however, wasn’t the end of the spectacular match. Kouse was on a roll and decided to raise the weight even more. He attempted to lift 141 kg for his third lift, which is heavier than Toda’s 140-kg Japanese record. He failed, but as soon as he saw the two red lights, he immediately raised a finger to request a “special” fourth lift for the record. “The third lift didn’t feel all that heavy,” he said. After an interval that lasted about three minutes, Kouse successfully lifted 141 kg.

In that instant, he roared with joy and pounded the bench with his fists over and over. He was eventually overcome with emotional tears and covered his face with both hands. He was deeply moved and said, “Since it was my fourth attempt, I just barely made the Japanese record.”

Meanwhile, even though he lost the match, Toda hadn’t lost his desire to keep aiming higher. “I know Kouse’s improving, but I don’t intend to let him go unchallenged.”

Right now, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games ranking has Toda in 11th place and Kouse in 12th place. Toda and Kouse’s race to reach the top eight and compete for the single slot to Tokyo 2020 is just beginning to heat up.

Showdown in the 97-kg Class: Championship Favorite Makoto Majima vs Former Motorcycle Police Officer Kazuhito Sato

Another intense showdown took place in the 97-kg class, where three competitors took on Makoto Majima, who holds the Japanese record at 160 kg. The first to throw down the gauntlet was 40-year-old Kazuhito Sato, who started competing four years ago. He set a Japanese tie record by successfully lifting 160 kg on his first try. His second lift, while unsuccessful, added 5 kg (165 kg), which startled everyone.

Meanwhile, championship favorite Majima lifted 154 kg and 158 kg for his first and second lifts respectively. The lifts were perfect, earning him three white lights each time, but he was being overwhelmed by his competitors. Even 46-year-old Yoshitaka Sato laid ambush by easily lifting 160 kg for his third lift. It was turning out to be a real skirmish.

Makoto Majima, who became a grandfather at just 49 years old in January, won in the 97-kg class
photo by Hiroki Nishioka

The one who emerged victorious, however, was Majima. After (Yoshitaka) Sato’s lift, (Kazuhito) Sato attempted 165 kg once again, but failed. His record remained at 160 kg. Seeing this, Majima lifted 161 kg, which earned him three white lights, a come-from-behind victory and the championship title for a second year running all at once.

Majima is currently in 17th place in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games ranking. He has been trying to clear the Minimum Qualification Standard (MQS) to compete in Tokyo 2020, which is 165 kg, but has so far been unsuccessful. It has been a source of frustration for him.

The path to Tokyo 2020 is by no means easy for Majima. Nevertheless, he remains positive, and said, “I can focus on lifting heavier weights at the Para Powerlifting World Cups in Manchester (March) and Dubai (June).”

Kazuhito Sato, who set a new Japanese record of 165 kg, works for the Hyogo Prefectural Police
photo by Hiroki Nishioka

Takako Tatsukawa Won in the Women’s 61-kg Class After a One-On-One Match

The women’s 61-kg class received particular attention as well, since it was joined by Eri Yamamoto, who won in the 55-kg class last year. After being diagnosed and treated for subacute thyroiditis last August, she struggled to cut weight in time and switched to the 61-kg class. It led to a one-on-one showdown for the championship title, which was previously held by Takako Tatsukawa.

Both athletes chose 60 kg for their first lifts and Yamamoto came out ahead. Her lift was perfect, earning her three white lights. Meanwhile, Tatsukawa’s attempt failed, making for a bitter start. Nevertheless, Tatsukawa succeeded in lifting 65 kg for her second lift, which turned the tables. Yamamoto received encouraging cheers from fans watching remotely, but she was unable to fully lift 65 kg during her second and third attempts.

Eri Yamamoto said she made the decision to switch to a heavier weight class after considering how best to give it her all right now
photo by Haruo Wanibe

“I’m not satisfied,” Yamamoto said. “But being able to lift 60 kg wiped away a lot of my concerns. If I’m able to compete in the Manchester 2021 Para Powerlifting World Cup in March, I intend to compete in the 55-kg class.”

Tatsukawa was able to defend the championship title but failed to lift 68 kg during her third lift. She expressed her disappointment saying, “I was on a streak of setting new Japanese records recently, so I’m unhappy that I wasn’t able to do so this time.”

Takako Tatsukawa, winner of the 61-kg class, expressed disappointment for failing to set a new Japanese record, saying, “I trained to lift with good form, but…”
photo by Hiroki Nishioka

Results of the 21st All Japan Para Powerlifting International Invitation Championship

text by Yoshimi Suzuki
key visual by Hiroki Nishioka

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