【Alpine Skiing】The 2017 Japan Para Alpine Ski Championships Conclude the 2016–17 Season
After the IPC Alpine World Cup in Hakuba, held March 5–6, was the "2017 Japan Para Alpine Ski Championships," held March 18–21 at the Hakuba Happo-one Ski Resort in Nagano prefecture. On March 20, top athletes who had been attending the IPC Alpine World Cup in Korea as a pre-meet for the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympic Games joined the championships to finish off the season with world-class competitions.
Morii, World Cup champion for two consecutive years: "I am looking forward to PyeongChang."
Men's sitting skier Taiki Morii, a leader in the Japan team, said before the championships, "I want to finish the season with a good feeling." True to his words, in the second Giant Slalom event held on the last day, he placed third in the first run and pulled up to second in the second run, a solid performance.
Morii had struggled to get results during the first half of this season, but he says it turned out to be a good opportunity to objectively review and improve his skiing.
At the World Cup in Hakuba he made his first World Cup victory of the season in the Super Giant Slalom, and at the following World Cup in Pyeongchang he snatched two wins in the Downhill and Super Giant Slalom, getting his second consecutive overall World Cup championship. He showed some confidence in his ability to get his first Paralympic gold at PyeongChang with the words, "I had a great season, so much that I am looking forward to the Paralympic Games."
The strong presence of two gold medalists
Suzuki, an expert at the slalom
Men's sitting skier Takeshi Suzuki said, "I held back a little to avoid injury." Nevertheless, he won the first Giant Slalom event at the Japan Para Championships, showcasing his strength in technique-oriented events.
Suzuki won gold in the Slalom at the Sochi Paralympic Games three years ago, and again on the last day of the World Cup in Pyeongchang. "I don't get a medal very often in the slalom, so I skied with the thought that I have to make a statement on this last run."
Of course, this does not mean he can relax now. The second place winner was a 17-year-old skier from the Netherlands with a bright future ahead of him. Suzuki seems to feel threatened, saying, "He will probably be faster next year." That said, he does not intend to let him easily gain the gold, and plans to combat his opponent's youth with "experience."
Men's sitting skier Akira Kano snatched the gold in the second Giant Slalom event at the Japan Para Championships. Kano is good at speed and won gold medals at the 2010 Vancouver (Super Giant Slalom) and 2014 Sochi (Downhill) Paralympic Games. He is hoping to get three golds in a row at the PyeongChang Paralympics next year.
Kano says he struggled with self-motivation after winning his first gold in Vancouver, but that his motivation has stayed strong since Sochi. For the last three years he has trained steadily, and he intends to continue doing so until the Paralympics next year.
"Now starts the year in which everything is done in preparation of the Paralympic Games. This is the true starting line. I hope to culminate what I have accumulated thus far." His cool expression shows the demeanor of a gold medalist.
Muraoka spent a "year of thinking" for solid results in the second half of the season
Muraoka, who also got results at the World Cup in Hakuba
Women's sitting skier Momoka Muraoka made her first victory this season in the Super Giant Slalom at the World Cup in Hakuba. "I'm happy to finish this season with the good image of the Hakuba course," she said with a smile at the Japan Para Championships.
Although the season started slow for her, she began improving after the world championships in January and won multiple medals since. Of the Pyeongchang course, which will be used in the Paralympic Games, she said, "It was fun to conquer the course and I enjoyed skiing it."
According to Muraoka, "What I have been doing through trial and error, with different skis and suspensions, is starting to pay off." In the past she used whatever was provided, but this season she began to think about her equipment more carefully and how it can help her ski faster, for example the ski edge bevel. She thanks her improved support system—she is asked what she wants to do more often, and her requests are more readily granted.
Muraoka said, "This season involved a lot of thinking. At first I had no idea what to do, but I tried a variety of things and finally got here." Her new analytical skills, combined with the technical skills she already has, will surely bear results henceforward.
Standing skier Misawa built confidence with steady training
Men's standing skier Hiraku Misawa finished the season well under both physical and mental pressure. He won both Giant Slalom events at the Japan Para Championships with a significant lead on the second place winner. At the World Cup in Pyeongchang he finished sixth but was satisfied with his performance. He came back to Japan with conviction in his competitiveness.
The World Cup in Hakuba turned out to be a big event for Misawa. In the past he only won Slalom medals at international events, but in Hakuba he snatched the bronze in the Super Giant Slalom, although he does not consider himself to be particularly good at high-speed events. He believes this is a result of his accumulated training. "For one, I think the training that I have been doing all this time played a big part. At the Sochi Games, training helped changed my physique, but now my body has fully absorbed the training."
Misawa's trademark was his "reckless" tendencies, but now he tries to put care into every detail. This applies not only to training, but daily practices like eating well and getting enough sleep. Now he finishes runs without going off course and consistently ranks in the top ten.
Misawa said, "Because the Paralympics only happens every four years, I always became too eager to get results. But now I have the confidence that as long as I prepare well, I will get results." He has his sights on a PyeongChang medal.
The Japan Para Championships showed the confidence of the athletes after a satisfying season. Their eyes are focused on the Paralympic Games, and we expect to see the bright smiles of many Japanese athletes at PyeongChang next March.
Kano started his steady journey towards PyeongChang
Misawa shows confidence in the next year
text by Hisako Saito
photo by Kazu Yoshihama,X-1