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A Hotly Pursued Silver for Triathlon’s Hideki Uda: Ironman Cried at “Happy Homestretch”

The opening day of competition for the triathlon was held against the backdrop of Tokyo’s Odaiba area on August 28, and Hideki Uda of the men’s PTS4 class won the silver medal. Uda commented before the competition, “My goal is decidedly the winners’ podium.” Despite this being his first Paralympic Games, his satisfying race performance brought about Japan’s first medal in this event.

Not bridging the gap in a challenging swimming portion

“I think I’ll get a bit of a late start in swimming, but in the cycling and running after that I’ll give a good chase to the athletes in front of me one at a time. Without giving up until the end, I need to strive to place in the top three somehow and persist through the race.”

Uda said these words in an interview prior to the Paralympic Games, and that is exactly how events unfolded.

As most predicted, Alexis Hanquinquant (France), ranked first in the world, took the lead at the outset. For Uda, for whom swimming is considered a weakness, the important point was how much of a difference this portion would finish with. He of course aimed to overcome his shortcomings. Uda displayed confidence after the preliminary competition in Yokohama this May, saying, “I’ve pumped up the volume quite a bit on my swimming. I’m certain I’m closer to the top athletes than I was in Yokohama.” Yet Uda failed to bridge the gap in the event, finishing the swimming portion in eighth place, with a difference of about three minutes from the athlete in the lead.

Hideki Uda of the Japanese national triathlon team (center of the photograph)

Suddenly within range of a medal in the cycling portion, his specialty

This was not Uda’s first time on the Odaiba course. Before the Paralympic Games, he said, “It’s a course I like relatively well, so I think I can give a good performance.” As he stated, he rose to fifth place in his second cycling lap and jumped to third place, within range of a medal, when he finished his fourth and final lap.

Masamitsu Tomikawa, leader of the Japan Triathlon Union’s Paralympic Project Team, commented of Uda, “Looking at the results of his fitness tests, he has the endurance to reach the level of a first-class competitor. His one-handed cycling technique is also skillful.” It could be considered the driving force for Uda, who demonstrated he could pose a threat by closing in from behind.

It takes more than physicality and technique. Uda has a sure eye for ascertaining details that will win or lose a competition. Observing the whole course, he said, “The key will be how hard I pedal on the cycling ascent.” It was a hot pursuit, with Uda leveraging the terrain to his advantage to the fullest extent.

Uda closing in on his bike

Drawing the medal closer in a persevering performance

At last, the race proceeded to the final run. Uda showed persevering performance here, too, rising to second place in the second lap and finishing by further increasing the distance between himself and the athlete in third. Uda reflected, “I went into the race feeling that I absolutely would not give up while my target was in sight. I think the race progressed well for me.”

Uda drew the medal closer himself. He cried openly after achieving his goal.

“All kinds of feelings welled up just before I reached the goal, and it was more than I could stand. The last part was a very happy homestretch.”

Uda said, “I was able to compete in today’s race thanks to the support of many people.” Afterward, he was overcome with emotion.

Wanting to continue to exhibit the competitive skill of para-athletes

Rival athletes are also friends that have competed together. Uda harbors special feelings about them, too. In spite of the pandemic, familiar faces connected by races around the world gathered here in Tokyo today.

Uda said, “This race was truly a blessing because everyone could compete together. The mood was a little different from a usual race, but the race felt good because the participants were the same wonderful rivals as always. Not just me but all the para-athletes are here in this setting because we have always acquired the same amount and quality of training as able-bodied athletes. I would like that competitive skill to be recognized.”

Calling himself a “spotlight seeker,” Uda also sets the mood on the Japanese triathlon team, on which seven people participated this Paralympic Games. Still, that is not to say he is there just to lift team spirit. The expressions with which he faced the competition honestly and conveyed his gratitude to his friends and supporters up to now revealed a glimpse of his pride as a medalist.

Holding up the Japanese flag, Uda gratefully accepted the silver medal.

edited by TEAM A
text by Kenichi Kume
photo by Jun Tsukida

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