【Triathlon】ITU World Paratriathlon Yokohama:Paralympians Tsuchida and Tani Marked Class Wins
The Yokohama leg of the ITU World Paratriathlon Series, the world’s biggest triathlon series hosted by the International Triathlon Union, was held on May 13 at a special course set up around Yokohama’s Yamashita Park. Seventy para triathletes from Japan and abroad (45 men and 25 women) gathered to compete in the rain in 2017 ITU World Paratriathlon Yokohama, going head-to-head in their comprehensive strengths for three events: swimming, cycling and running.
New Sport Classes Introduced After the Rio Paralympics
After becoming an official Paralympic sport in Rio, a new sport class system—according to physical and vision impairments—was introduced in January 2017 with revisions to ITU competition rules. The men’s and women’s sport classes were increased from 5 classes each to the current 6. The major changes were as follows. PT1 (wheelchair users) became PTHC, with two subclasses: H1 (most impaired) and H2 (least impaired). The sport class for non-wheelchair-user para triathletes went from three classes (PT2 through PT4) to four classes and was renamed PTS2 through PTS5. Finally, the class for para triathletes with visual impairments, which used to be known as PT5, was renamed PTVI with the same sub-classes: B1, B2 and B3.
The meet was the first ITU world para triathlon to be held after introduction of the new sport class system. On top of that, it was being held in Japan, the country where the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics will be held. The event proved highly popular, and there were more para triathletes wanting to enter than the available slots. Some had to be put on a waiting list. Many came from overseas, from Rio Paralympics medalists to younger para triathletes with their eyes on entering the Tokyo Paralympics. The Japanese para triathletes included Junpei Kimura (PTHC) and three other members of the Rio Paralympics Japan national team, along with seven others entering for the first time. It became a wonderful opportunity to test how they fared against the world.
Yukako Hata, who placed 6th at the Rio Paralympics
Yukako Hata, a unilateral above-knee amputee (PTS2), who came in 6th in Rio, finished in 4th place in Yokohama. Competing against some of the top-placing para triathletes from the Rio Paralympics, Ms. Hata, who excels in the swim, was in first place after the swim stage. Her position gradually slipped lower, first being overtaken by Rio gold medalist Allysa Seely (USA) in the first transition. However, Ms. Hata said, “I endured the cycling stage better than in my past races. I feel I’ve grown as a para triathlete.” Furthermore, she has been using a new prosthesis for the run from this season. She said, “It feels better than it’s ever felt. I think I can use the spring of the blade to an even better advantage if I can build up enough muscle to handle the strong impact.” It seemed she was able to confirm her potential as well. She has a gold medal as her goal for Tokyo 2020. Her voice was full of confidence as she said, “My gear is perfect. I want a chance to redeem myself at next year’s event.”
Keiichi Sato, whose forte is cycling, catching up from behind
Keiichi Sato, who has a congenital limb deficiency (left wrist), placed 11th in Rio. In Yokohama, he came in fifth place in the PTS5 class. An accident resulted in lost time during the swim, a stage that he is not good at. He did his utmost to come up from behind into the lead during the cycling stage, which is his forte. However, he said that he was disappointed that he did not have enough reserve strength left to advance further during the final sprint. Mr. Sato has also competed on the world stage in Nordic skiing events. He is expected to compete in next year’s PyeongChang Paralympic Winter Games. Under the new para triathlon sport class system, he will be in the PTS5 class, which will include almost all the top PT4 placers from Rio. He will be going up against some severe competition. He said he will continue taking part in overseas meets so that he can maintain a world ranking within the top 10. He said firmly, “I will enhance my stamina through the triathlon so that it will also work in my favor for my skiing.”
Atsuko Maruo (left) and her guide, Mai Taketomo
Atsuko Maruo (maiden name Yamada) of the PTVI class (partial or total visual impairment) had placed ninth at the Rio Paralympics. Yokohama turned out to be a rematch of athletes who had placed in top positions in Rio. Ms. Maruo had a difficult time, placing fifth out of the five triathletes in her class. The cycling course was slightly modified from this year and included more curves, making it difficult for those in the PTVI sport class who compete on tandem bicycles. What’s more, the road was slippery this year due to rain. She said, “I was scared more than anything. I wish I had been able to be more aggressive.” She said that she wanted to get further ahead by the ITU World Paratriathlon Grand Final Rotterdam in September, but she also revealed that she was having a hard time finding a guide. The ideal would be to develop teamwork with a fixed guide. However, under current circumstances, she has to team up each time with whoever is available at the time. Mai Taketomo, who served as Ms. Maruo’s guide in Yokohama, said, “I want as many triathletes as possible to experience being a guide. They shouldn’t be afraid to try it. Serving as a guide broadens your horizons as a triathlete, and it improves your skills.” Ms. Maruo added, appealing for support, “It offers mutual stimulation, and it helps you grow as a person.”
Wheelchair Marathoner Wakako Tsuchida, Takes on the Para Triathlon Challenge
One of the athletes who caught a lot of attention in Yokohama was Wakako Tsuchida of the PTHC class. She is a Paralympics veteran, having competed in seven consecutive Paralympics—Summer and Winter combined. She is a leading para-athlete, having won many international marathons. She is also holder of the current world record in the wheelchair marathon. Ms. Tsuchida started swimming as part of her treatment after she developed exercise-induced asthma last November. She had also felt capable riding a handcycle as part of her marathon training. She therfore launched a full-scale challenge on para triathlons from February this year. She made her debut in April at the ASTC ParaTriathlon Asian Championships in the Philippines. Ms. Tsuchida said that she wanted to confirm her abilities and expand her possibilities in Yokohama by marking her first win. She had a comfortable lead, finishing one minute ahead of the second-place winner.
Ms. Tsuchida cheerfully said, “It’s great to be in first place. I am also really enjoying this new challenge.” She said that she is engaging in the triathlon as cross-training for athletics. As for the future, she said, “I want to achieve good results in this autumn’s marathon first. But, I do feel that triathlons are an appealing sport. I have to admit that it would be nice to compete on a world level and get up on the winner’s podium.” It seems she got the sense that she has potential.
Mami Tani heading to the goal in first place
Meanwhile, Mami Tani (maiden name Sato), a below-knee amputee long jump Paralympian, was the winner of the PTS4 sport class. She participated in ITU World Paratriathlon Yokohama two previous times to get what she called “a change of pace” from her athletics training. However, she announced last year that she was converting full-time to the triathlon. This was her first meet since then, and having achieved a victory, she said, with a smile on her face, “My foremost goal is to get up on the winner’s podium at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, so I’m off to a good start.” Ms. Tani said that her win was attributable to not giving up along the way. She considers cycling her weakness, but she showed that she is willing to do what it takes. She said, “I’ve been training on the bicycle for one year, but I still have room to grow.”
Will Participation by Athletes from Other Sports Have an Impact?
In regard to the Yokohama meet, Masamitsu Tomikawa, Leader of the Japan Triathlon Union (JTU) Paralympic Strategic Team, said, “Strong athletes are winning in every sport class in line with their capabilities. The Japanese para triathletes saw both good outcomes and the challenges they need to overcome individually. That’s what we’ve gained through the Yokohama para triathlon.” He said that from next year, a national team system will be built toward Tokyo 2020. It will include even finer-tuned training camps and specialized athlete strengthening efforts involving the support staff of Olympic athletes.