News & Topics

2016.07.01

[Track & Field] The Significance of Para-athletes Joining in the Japan Championships in Athletics

The Japan Championships in Athletics, and the qualifying trials for the Rio Olympic Games, was held at the Mizuho Athletic Stadium in Nagoya near the end of June. Many of the events were watched eagerly, such as the men's 100 meters with multiple promising athletes. Approximately 61,800 spectators came over the three days. On the last day, two Paralympic exhibition races were held—the men's T44/47 (amputation, etc.) 100 meters and the T54 (wheelchair) 1500 meters.

The first standing class race to be held at the championships

This was the first time for a Paralympic standing class event to be held at the championships. A wheelchair exhibition race, on the other hand, was held at the qualifying trials in the 1991 World Championships in Athletics in Tokyo, making this exhibition race the first of its kind in a quarter century. Mitsugi Ogata, Senior Managing Director of the Japan Association of Athletics Federations, said of this ground-breaking event, "They (the Paralympic track and field events) are the same as the able-bodied events. There is a concept of excelling together, and this is just one step in the process of strengthening collaboration."

Although many people know of Paralympic track and field events that use wheelchairs and artificial legs, unfortunately very few have actually watched one. This race, taking place in front of track and field fans at one of the top national events, was a great opportunity for track and field Para-athletes to demonstrate their hard work and level of performance.

The athletes must have felt the same way. In the wheelchair race held first, six of the top national athletes built up an impressive race. Young sprinter Tomoki Ikoma jumped out at the signal gun. He said he wanted to "leave an impression" with his signature fast start, which drew a big applause from the crowd. At around the 200-meter point, national record holder (2:56.33) Masayuki Higuchi took the lead, with up-and-coming athlete Tomoki Suzuki trying to overtake him from the outside several times. The race went into the second half, and at the last 100-meter point, Sho Watanabe, who had kept close to Higuchi, made a dramatic sprint and won the race at 3:06.69.

The athletes must have felt the same way. In the wheelchair race held first, six of the top national athletes built up an impressive race. Young sprinter Tomoki Ikoma jumped out at the signal gun. He said he wanted to "leave an impression" with his signature fast start, which drew a big applause from the crowd. At around the 200-meter point, national record holder (2:56.33) Masayuki Higuchi took the lead, with up-and-coming athlete Tomoki Suzuki trying to overtake him from the outside several times. The race went into the second half, and at the last 100-meter point, Sho Watanabe, who had kept close to Higuchi, made a dramatic sprint and won the race at 3:06.69.

Higuchi, who led the race but lost with a 0.1-second difference, offered these refreshing words: "I wanted to run a race that would not make me feel ashamed, because it was in front of people who have an eye for track and field. I wanted to show the speed, which is faster than running on legs, and tactics of wheelchair racing. I lost at the very end, but that is also the thrill of this sport."

The standing 100 meters was a tight race between four athletes, all finishing under 12 or 13 seconds. Mikio Ikeda, who has an artificial right hand and artificial right leg, is a student of Chukyo University and a local of Aichi Prefecture. He ran a personal best of 12.19, boosted by cheers from his family and friends at this venue he has long admired. "When I heard the applause at my introduction, I knew I could not run a shameful race. I was able to turn that pressure into a positive force," he said with a satisfied expression.

The standing 100 meters was a tight race between four athletes, all finishing under 12 or 13 seconds. Mikio Ikeda, who has an artificial right hand and artificial right leg, is a student of Chukyo University and a local of Aichi Prefecture. He ran a personal best of 12.19, boosted by cheers from his family and friends at this venue he has long admired. "When I heard the applause at my introduction, I knew I could not run a shameful race. I was able to turn that pressure into a positive force," he said with a satisfied expression.

After the race we talked to some of the spectators. Most people said it was their first time to see a Paralympic race, and many expressed surprise such as, "I didn't think they would be so fast," and, "It was more dynamic than I expected." A junior high school student in a track and field club looked at the athletes with admiration ("They were all awesome") and one woman in the midst of raising children said she was inspired ("There are athletes who are doing their best in wheelchairs and with artificial limbs. It made me think, I can try harder too.")

Paralympic events at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix and the East Japan Industrial Track and Field Championships


Paralympic events were held this year and last year at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix

In Europe and America, where track and field events are popular, Paralympic events have been held at regular events since before. We are seeing this more often in Japan as well over the last several years. For example, the men's T44 100 meters and high jump was held at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix last year for the first time, and this year the T44/47 100 meters as well as the women's T44 long jump was held. It looks like this may become an established event.


In addition, visual impairment events are held at the East Japan Industrial Track and Field Championships, which is rare even internationally. The men's and women's 1500 meters has been held since 2012, and this year the 5000 meters was added. Visually impaired runners and their sighted guides put on a powerful race. These races show how fast visually impaired athletes can run when running with a sighted guide, and offer a great opportunity to promote the need for "fast sighted guides" among able-bodied runners and others.

Of course, there are issues to overcome in these exhibition events. For instance, because the supervising organizations are different, problems occur in procedures and fees, and sometimes the records made at the events are not officially recognized. If a Para-athlete is invited to one of these events, he or she may choose an official tournament if the dates coincide. Also, able-bodied athletes are given priority for sub-field use. However, this problem should be avoidable by coordinating time slots or allocating tracks, just as one corporate team coach said, "Paralympic athletes are not drastically different when it comes to running speed, and they understand the manners of using a field. There should be no problem."

Senior Managing Director Ogata said, "The performance of Paralympic athletes can be a great stimulant for able-bodied athletes. These efforts should be further expanded towards the (Tokyo 2020) Olympic and Paralympic Games." We hope to see further development going forward.
Senior Managing Director Ogata said, "The performance of Paralympic athletes can be a great stimulant for able-bodied athletes. These efforts should be further expanded towards the (Tokyo 2020) Olympic and Paralympic Games." We hope to see further development going forward.

text by Kyoko Hoshino
photo by PHOTO KISHIMOTO,X-1
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