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Long-Hopeful Gold Medalist Keiichi Kimura, A Presence Showing the Fascinations of Para-Swimming

The 38th JapanPara Swimming Championships were held at Chiba International General Swimming Center on November 20th and 21st. For many athletes there who participated in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, it was their first race since that competition.

The Japanese national swimming team won a total of 13 medals, including three golds, at Tokyo 2020. They attracted conspicuous attention.

Coach Takumi Uegaki said, “This is the first step toward the next Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, next year’s World Championships (Portugal), and the Asian Para Games (China).” Under the circumstances, the veteran athletes see this as their chance to let people know about para-swimming now that they have concluded a Paralympic Games hosted by their own country.

Finishing his first race in a while and flashing a smile

One of those veterans was Keiichi Kimura, long-hopeful gold medalist in the men’s 100m butterfly (S11/visual impairment) at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Although this competition was held without spectators, Kimura spoke of his motivation to “have a day for people to watch me swimming again and tell about it.”

Repaying kindness in the races after the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

Kimura entered the 50m butterfly and freestyle events in this year’s Japan championships. First, on day one of the competition, he joined the butterfly and set a record for the JapanPara Championships of 28.16 seconds. Uchu Tomita, teammate and Tokyo 2020 runner-up in the 100m butterfly, did not enter the race, and the result was an overall victory for Kimura as the sole entrant from his class.

Unpracticed but effective tapping

Kimura’s life was busy after Tokyo 2020, with television appearances and an event celebrating the publication of his book. He related that he practiced at most three or four times a week and that the distances he swam were also short. He did not practice tapping (a technique that uses a stick to tap swimmers with visual impairment on the head to let them know when to turn), either. Kimura made adequate time even so, and as the gold medalist, he seemed relieved.

Reflecting, “I swam better than I thought I would. I thought my time would be over 28.5 or be 29 seconds, so I’m happy. It felt easy because the race was 50m, too,” Kimura said his first race after the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games was a good one.

Kimura set a JapanPara Championships record to win the 50m butterfly.

Kimura swam this race with athletes from other classes, such as 16-year-old Kaede Hinata (motor function impairment), another athlete who participated in Tokyo 2020. Actually, as Kimura went to enter Lane 4, regular friend Daiki Kubo (motor function impairment), from the S10 class, took him by the hand, and they walked to the starting block together. Some viewers may have observed Kimura entering poolside with his tapper during the Paralympic Games on television. Kubo swam next to Kimura in Lane 5 and mentioned that he guided Kimura in a race for the first time because of a particular sentiment.

Kimura prepared to begin the race after Kubo led him to the starting block.

Kubo revealed:
“Fellow athletes normally help each other in training camp. The impression that (athletes with severe impairments) get help with every little thing is strong, but there are actually a lot of things the athletes can do for each other without any special assistance. I think what people feel seeing that varies depending on the individual, but I’d like them to perceive that, and I’d like it to be normal for athletes to do things like go together to the starting point.”

Kubo, who served as a commentator in television highlights during the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, emphasized that: “I was shocked there was a world I didn’t know when I went from being able-bodied to having an impairment, dove into para-swimming society, and saw top athletes like Keiichi Kimura. Many people must have felt the same during Tokyo 2020. To begin with, it’s important that people know about para-swimming. Then comes the point for the athletes themselves also to think about what they can do in the future and how they can share the appeal of the sport.”

Kimura won a long-hoped-for gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
photo by Takashi Okui

Kimura commented on his race with Kubo that “He isn’t particularly a rival, but I’m glad we had a fun race,” and the two had brilliant banter afterward on a YouTube channel streaming the progress of the competition.

Kimura spoke about his state of mind in his first race after Tokyo 2020.

No talk of future goals

Kimura said about the race on the second day, the 50m freestyle, that he would “do his best to go fast and aim for a good record,” but he swam the event in 26.82 seconds, leaving the record unbroken. He still finished the competition with a smile.

Kimura refrained from discussing the World Championships to be held in Portugal next June. Nothing is decided about the future. Avoiding any statement on his competitive activities hereafter, Kimura said, “I’d like to do all sorts of things every day and cherish each day.”

Chosen as a valuable athlete for 2021 by the Japanese Para-Swimming Federation

Kimura did not really state his next goal after the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games ended in two silver and two bronze medals, either. He said about that time, “I had no confidence to get through four years of training for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. My mind was mostly wandering for about a year,” but this time is different. There are many things to impart as someone who became a gold medalist after pursuing that goal for a long time:

“Now I’m being invited a lot of places, so I’d like to talk about the Paralympic Games even just a little with everyone who supported me and show them my medal and such.”

Kimura wants to bask in the afterglow of the Paralympic Games because he has people who are happy for him. He is currently 31 years old. What will the blind gold medalist show us after this? The anticipation is limitless.

The 38th JapanPara Swimming Championships were held at Chiba International General Swimming Center, with no spectators.

text by Asuka Senaga
photo by X-1

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