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【Table Tennis】The FID Japan Champion League Tournament Showcases Young Talent—New Champions

On January 14 and 15, the 16th FID Japan Champion League Table Tennis Tournament took place at the Yokohama Hiranuma Memorial Gymnasium in Kanagawa Prefecture. The tournament is one of the three major events for intellectual disability table tennis hosted by the Japan Table Tennis Federation for Players with ID (Japan's central organization for intellectual disability table tennis) alongside the FID Japan Championship Table Tennis Tournament and FID Japan Open Youth Table Tennis Tournament .

Kato, after taking a point from Takemori

「The Japan Champion League Tournament includes two leagues: the Champion League to determine top players and the Open League. The Champion League was attended by twelve men and eight women who ranked high in the Japan Championship Tournament last June. The Open League was attended by 96 men, divided into 16 groups of six, and 28 women, divided into four groups of seven. The two top players of each group proceeded to the finals to determine the overall winner.

Kato and Mio become First-time Champion League winners!

In the Champion League finals, Koya Kato won a straight victory against Rio Paralympics Japan representative Takeshi Takemori, taking the "Japan Champion League" title for the first time. Kato said, "I have confidence in my perseverance. I was able to defeat my opponent emotionally." Takemori took second place, putting an end to his goal of winning for the first time in three years since the 13th Tournament.

Takemori entertained spectators with his aggressive playing style

Asano, a promising star, took third place

In the women's games, Mio Sayuri won after a fierce battle in which three players had the same count of five wins and 2 losses. With practice, Mio had conquered her dislike of serving. "In practice I focused on the course and rotations. I'm glad I served well." Maki Ito, Rio Paralympian, finished fourth with four wins and three losses.

Junior high school student Obata (men's) and Matsui (women's) win the "gateway" Open League

Obata won the Open League

The Open League of this tournament is considered a gateway to becoming a top player in Japan, because winners have a better chance to get to the next Champion League Tournament. In fact, Kato was the winner of last year's Japan Champion League Tournament's Open League, and this year went on to win the Champion League title. Kato is planning to enter the global arena, and is now preparing an environment to better focus on training starting April. Young and promising player Koki Obata won the Open League title this year. Although still in junior high school, he gained the victory with a calm and steady performance. Many athletes punctuate their games with clenched fists and shouting, but Obata quietly took point by point. Mayu Matsui was the first-time women's Open League winner.

Young, up-and-coming favorites for the Tokyo Games

After the tournament, Kazushi Suzuki, Training General Manager of the Japan Table Tennis Federation for Players with ID, said, "It was a tournament that showcased the performance of younger athletes, with even new champions." Both the men's and women's Champion League saw first-time winners Kato and Mio, both 23. The men's Champion League third place winner was Takashi Asano (15). Asano won the Japan Open Youth Tournament last year, even defeating this year's champion Kato in one match. In addition, the men's Open League winner was Obata, a junior high school student.

The environment surrounding athletes with intellectual disabilities is starting to change with the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. More para-athletes are turning pro in recent years, and we are seeing this trend in intellectual disability table tennis as well. According to concerned parties, it was extremely rare for a company to employ an athlete with an intellectual disability, but today there are three ID table tennis athletes with professional contracts. There are some difficulties in having an athlete with an intellectual disability focus only on his/her sport, but one company is making efforts in preparing an environment for their athlete to focus on training without too much stress, by building a strong support system and cooperating with other companies. There is much anticipation in future developments.

The Training Department of the Japan Table Tennis Federation for Players with ID is looking forward to a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, and working on improving individual coaching and the department's internal structure.

In the increased limelight on non-disabled table tennis, para table tennis athletes are getting motivated as well. We all look forward to their performance up to, in, and after 2020.

Rio Paralympian Ito

Dynamic games took place on 20 courts

text&photo by Tomoko Sakai ,X-1
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