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Gold Medal Favorites! Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Game Events You Can’t Miss!

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will kick off on August 24. With home advantage as the host country, which of the Japanese athletes will win gold medals? Featured here are the gold medal favorites for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Keiichi Kimura (swimming): Will he overcome the disappointment at Rio?

At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, Keiichi Kimura won the most medals out of all the Japanese athletes: two silvers and two bronzes. Nevertheless, he had flown to Brazil with the aim to win gold, so his disappointment must have been big. In fact, he said he had felt burnt out after the Games and took a year off.

Later, wanting some new stimulation and tension in his life, he relocated on his own to the US in 2018, where he dedicated himself to training in a fresh environment. His efforts paid off at the World Para Swimming Allianz Championships, held in London in September 2019, where he became the world champion in the 100m butterfly event.

Many people hope and anticipate that Kimura will finally win the coveted gold at Tokyo 2020 in the 100m butterfly event (S11 visual impairment class). As the gold medal favorite, he said, “I want to be an athlete who’s just as good as able-bodied athletes. I want to show people how far human potential can take us.”

Kimura’s powerful swimming is a must-see, but so are his expressive comments.

(Photo from a press conference in June 2021)
photo by X-1

Tomoki Sato (athletics): Two gold medals with new world records?

Tomoki Sato watched the London 2012 Paralympic Games on TV and set a personal goal: to win a gold medal at Rio 2016. He was so close, finishing in second place behind a US athlete in the 400m and 1500m events, making it all the more disappointing for Sato.

Vowing to do better at Tokyo 2020, he won gold medals in the 400m and 1500m events at the London 2017 World Para Athletics Championships. In 2018, he set new world records in both events. At the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships, he once again won two gold medals. Wherever he goes, it seems nobody can stop him.

Sato, who loves the word “challenge,” announced that he would become a professional athlete in January 2021. His goal for Tokyo 2020 is to win gold medals with new world records. As the athlete closest to reaching the top of the podium, Sato will be participating in the 400m and 1500m races (T52 wheelchair class). He’ll no doubt win multiple gold medals for the Japanese delegation, who failed to win a single one at Rio.

In Okayama, where Sato trains
photo by prierONE

Misato Michishita (marathon): Taking on Tokyo 2020 as the world record holder!

Misato Michishita (T12 visual impairment class) started running marathons for a very ordinary reason: to lose weight. Standing at just 144 cm, she takes on the world.

Women’s marathon for the visually impaired became an official Paralympic Game event at Rio 2016, where Michishita won the silver medal. Her outstanding performance has continued ever since.

In 2017, she set a new world record at the Hofu Yomiuri Marathon (2 hours 56 minutes and 14 seconds). Then in February 2020, she broke her own world record by 1 minute and 52 seconds at the 69th Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, setting a new world record of 2 hours 54 minutes and 22 seconds. Furthermore, in December 2020 at the 51st Hofu Yomiuri Marathon, despite slowing down during the final stretch, Michishita once again shortened the world record by 9 seconds to 2 hours 54 minutes and 13 seconds.

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented Michishita from training regularly with her escort runner, so instead, she studiously worked alone on building up her muscle strength. Her efforts bore fruit and she said she can now run using her whole body. The marathon event is on the last day of the Paralympic Games. Will we be able to see Michishita’s radiant smile?

(Photo from the 51st Hofu Yomiuri Marathon in December 2020)
photo by Jun Tsukida

Sarina Satomi (badminton): Aiming for the gold medal in both singles and doubles!

Sarina Satomi (WH1 wheelchair class) became a wheelchair user after a traffic accident. She first began playing para badminton when her father half dragged her to a practice. At first, she wasn’t enthusiastic, but as she played a few rallies, she started to have fun.

Hiroshi Murayama from the Japanese para badminton national team saw her play that day and said, “From her first swing, she was hitting a high overhead clear (a powerful swing that shoots the shuttle to the back of the opponent’s court). I knew right then that she would become an outstanding player.”

In her debut tournament, Satomi won third place in singles, and that same year in December, she won second place at the Japan Para-Badminton Championships. In July 2018, she participated in her first overseas tournament, where she played doubles with Japan’s ace player, Yuma Yamazaki. The experience got Satomi thinking about winning a medal at the Paralympic Games.

In 2019, she reached the podium for almost all of her international tournaments and also won against some of the best players in the world. This gave her confidence and she said she could see a path to winning the gold at Tokyo 2020. She currently ranks No. 1 in the world and is in a position to win gold medals in both singles and doubles at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Yuma Yamazaki (left) and Sarina Satomi (right) will be playing as a doubles pair at Tokyo 2020
(Photo from the HULIC DAIHATSU Japan Para-Badminton International 2019)
photo by X-1

Shingo Kunieda (wheelchair tennis): Anticipated to win back the gold medal

When describing Shingo Kunieda, many people in the media use the word “legend.”

Kunieda has won a total of five medals (three golds, two bronzes) over the past four Paralympic Games. He’s one of Japan’s most famous para-athletes, but he wasn’t able to win a gold medal at Rio 2016.

In April 2016, right before the Rio Paralympic Games, he received surgery on his right elbow, but the pain returned in June. He played at Rio while receiving painkillers.

As a result, while he won the bronze medal in the men’s doubles, he was defeated in the quarterfinals in the men’s singles. It was a bitter tournament for Kunieda. No doubt, that experience has given him all the more reason to aim for the gold medal at Tokyo 2020.

In 2018, he won the Australian Open for the first time in three years, making a remarkable comeback. He continued reaching the podium for major tournaments in 2019 and beyond. He currently ranks No. 1 in the world in singles and No. 6 in doubles. Kunieda is the captain of the Japanese delegation to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, where many hope he will win back the gold medal for the first time since London 2012.

(Photo from the Indonesia 2018 Asian Para Games)
photo by Haruo Wanibe

Wheelchair rugby: Prove that Team Japan is the best!

The Japanese wheelchair rugby national team won the bronze medal at Rio 2016 and greatly invigorated the Japanese delegation.

The following year, the team welcomed head coach Kevin Orr, who had previously coached the US and Canadian teams. Team Japan went on to win the IWRF Wheelchair Rugby World Championship in Australia for the first time in August 2018. During the final game, both teams were neck and neck until Japan dramatically took the lead and won by a single point against Rio 2016 gold medalist Australia. It was a victory that will go down in the history of Japanese parasports.

In 2019, as people across Japan enthusiastically watched the Rugby World Cup Japan 2019, the 2019 World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge was held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. Team Japan cleared the preliminaries by winning all of their games. Although they were unable to reach the finals, they came in third following the US and Australia.

The wheelchair rugby team that will represent Japan at Tokyo 2020 includes the world-famous Japanese high pointers* Daisuke Ikezaki and Yukinobu Ike. Many younger athletes, who will become the leaders of the sport in the near future, will also be a part of the team, so the Games will no doubt provide a great opportunity for them to evolve even further.

Ace Ikezaki said that their goal is to win all the games and the gold medal. Taking pride in their title as a world champion, they are determined to deliver a gold medal for Japan.

*High pointers are players with minor impairments who are assigned high point values.

The Japanese wheelchair rugby national team after winning the IWRF Wheelchair Rugby World Championship for the first time in 2018
photo by Asuka Senaga

text by TEAM A
key visual by X-1

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