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【Para-Sports】What to Watch in Para-Sports in 2017, According to Sports Writers!

2016 was an action-filled year with the Rio Paralympic Games. Now let's take a look at what to expect in 2017. We asked experienced sports writers and the Paralympic Support Center's public relations staff to tell us about the highlights to look for this year.

What should we watch for in the para-sports world in 2017?

Kyoko Hoshino, sports writer:
The World Para Athletics Championships, or the "Other World Championships in Athletics," that will be held in July. As with the non-disabled championships, this event is held once every two years. Top athletes from around the globe compete for the title of best in the world. This year for the first time, both championships will be held at the same venue, the main stadium of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games. Approximately 1,300 world-class para-athletes are scheduled to compete this year, including both Rio Paralympic medalists and para-athletes who were disappointed in their quest for Rio. This will be an important step forward for Japanese athletes who are aiming for the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Para-badminton athlete Toyoda

Miharu Araki, sports writer:
Para-badminton, which will be an official event starting at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. Up until now, the two main events for para-badminton were the World Championships and the Asian Para Games, so finally being included in the Paralympic Games is a dream-come-true for the athletes and other stakeholders. We are seeing more Japanese athletes who have their eyes on winning a medal at the world's greatest event and are preparing their environments in order to better concentrate on their sport. Many of them won medals at the Asian Para-Badminton Championships held last November. In addition, the Japan Para-Badminton International 2017 will be held this September in Machida City, Tokyo. This will be the first time for an international para-badminton event to be held in Japan, and I expect it to be a great opportunity to show the excitement of this sport to more people.

Paralympic Support Center public relations staff:
The world of para-sports continues to be featured in the news even after the Rio Games. I think this trend will continue this year, and I look forward to what the media reports. I feel that ads and TV commercials are beginning to focus more on the awe-inspiring athletic aspect of the players, instead of their disabilities. I am excited to see perhaps some new heroes and heroines emerge.

Who are some up-and-coming athletes to watch?

車Wheelchair tennis athlete Funamizu

Araki, sports writer:
I think there is a lot of new energy in the "Tokyo 2020 generation " (teens and early twenties) of women's wheelchair tennis. Shiori Funamizu (16), Japanese representative at the World Team Cup junior event held last year in May, has since competed in senior events and shown great performance. She is a promising athlete currently ranking No. 7 in the JWTA national ranking. Other athletes worth watching include Manami Tanaka (20), who dominated the Taipei Open and Osaka Open last year, and Momoko Otani (21), who, despite having started wheelchair tennis just eight months earlier, finished second at the All Japan Selected Wheelchair Tennis Masters held last November. Tanaka and Otani, together with Rio Paralympic bronze medalist (singles) Yui Kamiji , are selected members of the Next-generation Target Sports Promotion and Cultivation Project of the Japan Sport Council. They plan to compete at an international event in Australia this month, and I look forward to seeing them grow as they play with their peers both Japanese and from overseas.

Goalball athlete Kaneko

Senaga , editor:
Men's Goalball is one team sport that Japan will compete in for the first time at the 2020 Games. In the Japanese representative team, I look forward to the performance of high school student Kazuya Kaneko. At the Japan Goalball Championships held last December, we watched him get bombarded by long-time athletes—athletes who have been competing internationally for years—yet buckle down and protect the goal until the very end. He says he aims to become an all-around player in order to stay on the representative team. I look forward to seeing how he influences the team's strategy. I also think the "2020 effect" is bringing out more promising young athletes in boccia and intellectual disability table tennis, which were sports that have not traditionally gained much attention.

Suzuki, wheelchair racing

Hoshino, sports writer:
I'm looking forward to the performance of Tomoki Suzuki in track and field. He very nearly missed his chance to qualify for the Rio Paralympics in the T54 (wheelchair) class middle-distance events. But he said, "I will simply continue with my training plan designed for the September Rio Games." He proved this resolution by running a race that would have qualified him for Rio at an event just one month after the last Rio qualifying events, and finishing second at the Oita International Wheelchair Marathon held late October last year. His determination and ability to steadily move forward are qualities that make him a favorable player for the Tokyo 2020 Games.

The Preliminaries for the PyeongChang Games in Korea are staring in early March. What teams and athletes show promise for the winter Paralympics?

Morii, Super-G silver medalist at the Sochi Paralympics

Senaga , editor:
I have my eyes on alpine skier Taiki Morii , who, if he qualifies for PyeongChang, will be competing at five consecutive Paralympic Games since Salt Lake City. Last season he was the overall winner in the IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup, Men's Sitting category. He was also captain of the Japan team and a favorite for the gold at the 2014 Sochi Games. He fell and injured himself on the first day, however, and ended with only one silver medal. He says that at PyeongChang he is "only going for the gold." I am looking forward to seeing how the team works together to get to the podium in order to ensure Morii his gold medal. The IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup Hakuba Event, which will be held in Japan for the first time in a while, scheduled for March 5–7, will also be great to watch during this preliminary year of the Paralympics.

Hoshino, sports writer:
I expect a lot from Nordic skier Yurika Abe (cross-country, biathlon). She trained extremely hard in off-season last year and shows great improvement in leg strength and cardiopulmonary functions. This is already evident in her gold in the sprint classic event at the World Cup last December. I am looking forward to her further growth. This year we have the chance to see world-class athletes like Abe compete up close! The World Cup finals (March 18–22) will be held for the first time in Sapporo, Hokkaido.

Araki, sports writer:
The Japan team for ice sledge hockey, ranking tenth in the world, was second place in the World Championships B-Pool last December, winning a ticket to compete in the final qualification tournament for PyeongChang Paralympic Games. The qualification tournament will be held this fall, where six teams (including three lower-ranking teams from the World Championship A-Pool this April) will compete for three tickets to PyeongChang. The Japan team did not qualify for the last Paralympic Games in Sochi, so this is their chance for revenge. The team went into training camp right after the New Year holidays, with each member fully prepared and ready. In 2018 the sport will be renamed para ice hockey, from ice sledge hockey. 2017 is a transitional phase during which both names are allowed. I hope Japan performs well and leaves a mark on this new era for the sport.

Abe, showing a strong performance this season

Japan ice sledge hockey team

photo by X-1
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