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Strongest Heart of the Para Powerlifting World: Hideki Odo’s Singular Focus on Lifting

Hideki Odo, who has competed in the Paralympic Games three times so far in para powerlifting, is always quick to joke and say, “Because I’m a genius.” It doesn’t feel offensive though, because his face is charming and he’s the type of athlete who always gives his all every time he competes. It was no different at the 11th Fazza Dubai 2021 Para Powerlifting World Cup, which was the final preliminary tournament for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

An ability to focus on just lifting and nothing else

It was June 21, the third day of the 11th Fazza Dubai 2021 Para Powerlifting World Cup. Inside the venue, with its ultramarine blue walls reminiscent of the deep sea, one athlete pumped his fist into the air. It was Hideki Odo in the 88kg class. For the first time in around two years, he set a new Japanese record of 198kg and said, “I did it!” with a triumphant look.

Odo said he had nothing but confidence at the 11th Fazza Dubai 2021 Para Powerlifting World Cup where he lifted 198kg
photo by Dubai Club for People of Determination

Hideko Odo (hereafter “Odo”): At the Japan 2021 National Competition in January, my shoulder hurt, so I could only lift 174kg. Isn’t it so cool that I was able to bounce back from there and set a new Japanese record (laughs)? I perform incredibly well under pressure during competitions. Remember I failed the second try? When that happens, people usually start thinking about what they should fix for the next try. Not me. I just forget about the failed try and remember my best lift, which lets me lift my best lift. I’m super positive in that sense, if I may say so myself (laughs).

Odo is so confident in himself that he doesn’t get flustered even when he only has one second remaining until he has to lift. It’s common to see just one second remaining during Odo’s tries.

Odo: There aren’t many athletes like that, are there? But I need that time to do what I need to do. I don’t feel rushed even when I only have a second left.

That goes to show how integral Odo’s pre-lift routine is to his performance. He’s been competing for almost 25 years, but never once has he been disqualified for failing to lift when the referee gives the “start” command. With his smooth voice, like a tenor singer, Odo laughs and says, “Because I’m a genius.”

Odo competed in the 88kg class and came in eighth place at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games
photo by X-1

Attracted to para powerlifting because it doesn’t matter whether one has an impairment or not

Odo believes his strength of heart is a personality trait that he was born with. When he was involved in a motorcycle accident at age 18, he injured his spinal cord and could no longer move his body below his solar plexus. Nevertheless, he didn’t feel down for long.

Odo: From when I was a young kid, my life was all about paving my own path to do what I wanted to do. Whatever it was, I felt free to pursue it without constraint. So when I was injured, I thought, “What’s happened has happened” and was quick to set my eyes forward.

While in the hospital, Odo found something he could dive into. He met Shogo Takahashi, the former world No. 2 para powerlifter, and knew right away that that was the sport for him. It all began when he challenged Takahashi to an arm-wrestling match and was soundly defeated.

Odo: Back then, Shogo had an incredible build. I, on the other hand, weighed just 62kg. Today, I’d know better than to challenge someone with that much weight difference (laughs), but at the time, I was clueless. I challenged him and got beaten to a pulp. That made me want to beat him. I asked him to take me to training, but he kept putting it off and it was only two years later that he finally took me.

Odo, who says he performs well under pressure, said, “If I get to go to Tokyo 2020, I want to aim for as high a rank as possible.”
photo by Tomohiko Sato

It was 1997. Odo’s first ever result was 80kg. Two years later, he qualified to participate in his first international para tournament and won by lifting 135kg (in the 67.5kg weight class). From there, the world opened up before him.

Odo: At first, I just wanted to beat Shogo, but the world was full of people who were even stronger than him. I grew greedy, wanting to reach higher and higher, which ultimately led me to where I am today. The best part of powerlifting is lifting heavy weights, so I gained more weight to gain more power.

During this time, Odo also actively participated in tournaments for able-bodied athletes.

Odo: The good thing about powerlifting is that it’s barrier-free. With most other sports, para-athletes’ records aren’t recognized in tournaments for able-bodied athletes. But with powerlifting, tournaments for able-bodied lifters have adopted the Paralympic Games’ rule of having two minutes before the “start” command. When we participate alongside able-bodied lifters, our records are recognized as domestic tournament results. Whether you have an impairment or not, the sport recognizes that strong people are strong people.

Strength doesn’t depend on whether you have an impairment or not. This was what made Odo fall in love with the sport.

“I’m so strong, I have no reason to retire.”

Odo grew stronger and stronger. He has participated in three consecutive Paralympic Games since Beijing 2008. His best performance so far was at London 2012, where he finished in sixth place. In 2011, at a tournament for able-bodied athletes, he lifted 200kg. Even though he was 41 years old when he competed at Rio 2016, he had no intention of retiring after the Games.

Odo: In this sport, people in their 20s are pipsqueaks (laughs). Those in their 30s are strongest, and those in their 40s still have potential to grow.

In 2018, the Japanese national team welcomed a heartening presence. Jon Amos, a British coach who led the Great Britain powerlifting team to a medal at London 2012, became the head coach. Amos’ coaching style is all about efficiency.

Odo is a leading athlete who has participated in three Paralympic Games (photo from Rio 2016)
photo by X-1

Odo: Jon’s training program is exhausting but short. Thanks to that, I’ve stopped training recklessly. Before, I used to spend about five grueling hours in the gym, but now I leave after barely an hour. In the past, when I was training three days a week, it felt like I was competing in three tournaments in a week.

Doesn’t it take courage for an athlete to cut back on training?

Odo: Jon said he created a world champion like this, so there was nothing to it but believe him. And then, I think it was at the 2016 IPC Powerlifting World Cup Dubai. When I dropped out, Jon came flying over to me and said, “You hurt yourself, didn’t you? Are you okay? Do you need ice? Should I call the ambulance?” He was really worried about me. At that moment, I knew I could trust him. I knew that this was the kind of person who understands and pays attention to each athlete and makes training programs that are appropriate for them.

Amos describes Odo as a man with a strong heart. During a TV interview, he once went as far as to say Odo’s mental fortitude, which allows him to wipe away all concerns before his lifts, is “crazy.”

Odo: In this sport, if you think you can lift the weight, you can. If you think you can’t, you can’t. Do I ever worry about getting hurt and what I’d do if I did? I just don’t think about it. Thinking about stuff like that gets you nowhere in competitions, so I don’t bother. I also don’t take any mental training courses, because most of them usually start with negative information. If they were to start positively, I’d like to give them a try, but not if they’re about “how to overcome failure” or stuff like that. Besides, I’m confident that I’m mentally stronger than any of those experts. I didn’t become the way I am after overcoming difficulties or through self-reflection. I was able to do it as naturally as I hold chopsticks. People seem to find it intriguing when I tell them this.

Indeed, talking with Odo makes us feel like we’re learning an important lesson in life. We also realized during the interview that Odo isn’t bold and nonchalant to the point of being thoughtless. In fact, he’s the opposite and demonstrates very fine consideration toward others. After talking about mental training, he was quick to turn to the publicity representative from the Japanese Para Powerlifting Federation, who was there with us, and put them in a good light.

Odo: So sorry! I know the Federation provides the best experts!

Quick-witted, strong and kind. That’s Hideki Odo. While he’s acutely aware of what goes on around him, when it comes time to compete, he’s able to focus on just one thing and one thing only: to lift. What’s his vision for the future?

Odo was the only member of the Japanese team to win a medal at the Kitakyushu 2018
Asia-Oceania Open Championships
photo by Tomohiko Sato

Odo: My vision is to become the world champion. I don’t know how I can become like those top international lifters, but there’s still a lot more I can do. At 46 years old, I often get asked about retiring, but I’m so strong, I have no reason to retire (laughs).

How much weight are humans capable of lifting? Powerlifter Odo continues to pursue that human potential.

text by Yoshimi Suzuki
key visual by X-1

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