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【Center News】Para-Ekiden in Tokyo 2017:12,000 Supporter, Volunteers, Team Yoshimoto and AAA

The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center hosted the "Para-Ekiden in Tokyo 2017" relay race on March 12, at the athletic venue and jogging course of the Komazawa Olympic Park. This was the second Para-Ekiden in Tokyo race—the first was held in 2015. Seventeen teams from 14 prefectures (153 runners altogether), including three new teams from the Tohoku region, participated in this 20.504-kilometer race.

The opening ceremony was attended by the Chairman of the Paralympic Support Center Yasushi Yamawaki, Special Advisor to the Paralympic Support Center and Governor of Tokyo Yuriko Koike, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Hirokazu Matsuno, Minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games Tamayo Marukawa, and more. Blind singer-songwriter Koshi Kishita sang the national anthem. The Yoshimoto Cheerleading Squad, consisting of comedians from Yoshimoto Kogyo entertainment company including familiar TV personalities like Ryota Yamasato (Nankai Candies) and Junichi Komoto (Jicho Kacho), also attended to liven up the event.

Tokyo Governor Koike served as a starter

Another guest was the performance group AAA (Triple A), attracting many of their younger fans to their first para sports event. Spectators cheered the runners on with paper fans that were handed out at the entrance.

In this long-distance relay race, runners with a variety of disabilities form teams with non-disabled runners. Nine team members (including guides) complete eight laps of a 2.563-kilometer course in eight sections, handing off a sash in place of a baton. Participants were diverse, from teens to runners in their 60s, and from Paralympians to regular citizens.

The race started at 1:00 pm. In the first section (visual impairment & guide runner), team "Very Good Tochigi" took the top with Beijing Paralympian Hiroaki Kajisa and guide runner Satoshi Toyoshima. At the last moment, however, they fell at the gate of the venue, letting team "Tokyo Wakuwaku Enjoy" with Satoru Yoneoka and guide runner Naoki Okumura take the section victory.
"Tokyo Wakuwaku Enjoy" was one of the favorites for the race with many talented athletes in the team, including Koichiro Yamanaka for the second section (hearing impairment) and Satsuki Kinuno for the fourth section (non-disabled, women's), who both took the section victories. However, team "Very Good Tochigi," which had held four training sessions since January and was determined to win the race "without a single second wasted," was a fierce competitor. They came back in the fifth section (intellectual disabilities) and continued to push forward, finally handing the sash to anchor leg Akiko Omori. Eighth section (wheelchair, women's) runner Saki Takamuro for "Tokyo Wakuwaku Enjoy" ran a great race, but was not able to catch up to "Very Good Tochigi," which won with a time of 1:21:47.

After the race, Kiyotaka Higano, seventh section (non-disabled, men's) runner for "Very Good Tochigi," commented with a smile. "We have great teamwork, and the two first section runners who had also attended the first Para-Ekiden created a great mood for the team. It was a close race, but everyone led the race in each section, so I was able to make my best effort despite the tough race."

Guests surrounding the victorious team "Very Good Tochigi"

Shota Gomi (Yamanashi Meteor), who won the fifth section (intellectual disabilities) for the second consecutive year, ran the fastest race of the day at 7:49. He is aiming to attend the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, and said, "I hope to take what I learned at this race, which showed me support from many people, and also what I will learn at the world championships in May, which I will be attending as Japanese representative. I hope to use their support to boost my energy and bring a medal back to Yamanashi."

While the race was going on, a wheelchair basketball trial game was held inside the tracks with Team Yoshimoto members Komoto, Yamasato, Toshiyuki Itakura, Atsushi Tsutsumishita (Impulse) and Hiroyuki Baba (Robert), as well as 2007 Miss Universe Riyo Mori. Under the tutelage of Shinji Negi, Captain of the Japan Team for the Sydney Paralympic Games, the attendants tried shooting hoops and more. Yamasato said, "Once you try it, you realize how amazing the athletes are. When you learn how hard these sports are, Paralympic sports really become more interesting."

Guests from Team Yoshimoto trying wheelchair basketball

A live performance by AAA for the finale, with songs "NEW" and "Yell"

A total of 11,200 people came to watch the race. It was another lively event, indicative of the rising interest in para sports.

A new effort this time was to recruit over 500 volunteers to help in the operation of the event.
One volunteer staff, a student of Nippon Sport Science University who was in charge of cheering and guiding runners from the outer rim, said, "There are some para athletes at my school, and as I watched the athletes run today, I realized that we are coming into the era of Paralympic sports." Another volunteer in charge of reception at the main gate said, "I want to volunteer at the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, so I am trying to gain some experience for that." He also said, "Because this event is for people with disabilities, the signage is very detailed. I was surprised at how many people were lined up before the opening."

Everyone—event organizers, athletes, spectators and volunteers—came together to make this event a success, and everyone also had a great time.

It’s sunny day! The athletes entered with the song of Yoshimoto Cheering team "Ashita ga Arusa"

Very Good Tochigi Wins with Good Teamwork


text&photo by Parasapo
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