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[Kanto Para Athletics Championships] Athletes Compete in Friendly Rivalry and Break Multiple Records

p>The 21st Kanto Para Athletics Championships, an officially approved event of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), was held on July 2–3 at the Machida-City Stadium in Tokyo. This annual tradition assembles a wide range of athletes, from veterans to juniors. Under the demanding high-temperatures and high-humidity, characteristic of Japan's rainy season, the athletes put forth excellent performances again this year with numerous new Asian and national records.

The growth of Suzuki and Misu, following in the footsteps of their seniors

One of the new Asian records was made by up-and-coming Tomoki Suzuki in the men's T54 class (wheelchair) 800 meters, with a time of 1:33.34. The race was held on the first day. Suzuki took the lead with his signature fast start and held it until the finish line, with over a two second gap on the second-place runner. Top athlete Masayuki Higuchi said, "It was a complete victory."

Suzuki also made a personal best in the 1500 meters four hours earlier, with a time of 2:59.34. He started well, as usual, but Higuchi caught up and took over. He placed second with a difference of 0.31 seconds. He was actually not in his best condition, with a fever caused by fatigue since the previous day. However, he was able to hold up against Higuchi, and he seems to have found satisfaction in his growth.

Suzuki expressed his ambition saying, "I allowed Higuchi to turn the tables in the 1500 meters, but I was able to beat him in the 800 meters. My next goal is to reach the top five in the world ranking." In response, Higuchi said, "His growth is very promising. But I do not plan to back down that easily." Suzuki is good at sprinting and has energy, but Higuchi is known for his stamina and strategic running. Their rivalry will be something to watch

Another rival relationship can be found in the women's T47 class (below elbow amputation, etc.) short distance races. Sae Tsuji, queen of her class, took three wins—the 200 meters, for which she broke the national record at 27.08, and the 100 meters and 400 meters. Honoka Misu, a younger student attending Nippon Sport Science University with Tsuji, also finished with promising results. She ran her personal best in the 200 meters at 27.71, only 0.63 seconds after Tsuji. She analyzed her performance saying, "Instead of starting fast and slowing down later, I was able to extend my running. I am starting to get a grasp on how to run the 200 meters."

Friendly rivalry between Misu (left) and Tsuji, her senior
photo by Kyoko Hoshino

In the 100 meters, Tsuji usually keeps the lead and widens the gap further near the finish line, but this day Misu stayed close and finished only 0.22 seconds later. "I kept close. My upper torso wobbled a little at the end, but I think I am making progress," she said with a smile. Her growth is in large part due to a change in her training environment. She graduated from high school this spring and entered Nippon Sport Science University, where she can get more technical instructions in the track and field team with Tsuji. This offers her more substantial training and better physical management. "Sae motivates and encourages me, and I now train in a good environment." We look forward to her further growth, spurred on by friendly rivalry with Tsuji.

Toru Suzuki clears 2 meters in the high jump, nearing his fifth Paralympic Games

Veteran athletes also showed solid performances. T44 class (single below knee amputation, etc.) Toru Suzuki cleared 2 meters in the high jump. He did not make his goal of 2.03 meters for a new personal best, but his performance proved his excellent condition. He brought his personal best up to 2.02 meters this May in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and had cleared 2.01 meters at a local tournament in Yamanashi Prefecture. This was, in fact, only his second time to clear 2 meters at an IPC-approved event held within Japan, the other being ten years ago in 2006. Suzuki said, "I am relieved to finally be able to get these results in front of everyone."

Although he has been competing for 16 years, this is his first time to jump over 2 meters three times within a year. He is still showing growth at the age of 36. He says his weak points are in the latter half of the approach run and his posture during clearance. He anticipates further progress and aims to achieve a 2.05-meter jump. Referring to his comeback after an injury to his left knee and his participation in four Paralympic Games, he says, "I have been through a lot, which is why I stand here today. I think I can keep competing until I am 40."

In the T44 (single below knee amputation, etc.) women's long jump, Maya Nakanishi won with her third trial jump at 5.40 meters, just 11 centimeters shy of her own Asian record. "I usually have a lot of fouls in the first several jumps and feel pressure with the latter jumps, but I have been training to perform solidly from the start. I got a good jump with one of the first ones today, so I was able to try different things with the latter jumps," she said with a satisfied expression.

Kato looks forward to Tokyo 2020 in throwing events

T42 class (single above knee amputation, etc.) Atsushi Yamamoto, a favorite for the gold in the long jump in Rio, was not able to compete in the long jump due to an unfortunate problem with his artificial leg. However, he broke championship records in both the 100 meters and 200 meters. He was able to brush away any negative emotions.

Yukiko Kato holds the world record in the women’s F46 class (upper arm amputation, etc.) shot put at 12.47 meters, which she made at these championships last year. This year her results were 12.27 meters, but we look forward to her further progress, boosted by a change in her life—she graduated from university and started working this spring.

Moreover, there were new efforts in the administration of the championships this year, such as a direct bus from the nearest station and booths serving food and drink, both of which proved popular. There were also the lively "Para athletics workshop" and "mixed relay," which the competing athletes also took part in. Such efforts at this local event in Tokyo are worth noting, in addition to the performance of the athletes, because in order for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games to be a success we must communicate the appeal of these events and invigorate the national meets, for example, by attracting more spectators.

text by Kyoko Hoshino
photo by Rokuro Inoue
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