KAWASAKI – For Japanese amputee athletes Maya Nakanishi and Saki Takakuwa, the simple act of lining up to participate might have been more meaningful than it was for the other participants this weekend.
Nakanishi and Takakuwa competed with able-bodied athletes in the women’s long jump at the Golden Grand Prix meet in Kawasaki’s Todoroki Stadium on Sunday.
“I’m so grateful that I was able to compete on this stage,” said Takakuwa, who finished second behind Nakanishi in the women’s T44 class with a 4.84-meter jump. “I got a different feeling than what we feel in events for (Paralympic) athletes.”
Nakanishi, 30, topped Takakuwa with a 5.22-meter jump.
Nakanishi, who broke her own Asian record by jumping 5.51 meters last week said: “I felt great to be out there, and I don’t think people really have chances to see sports for the (Paralympic) athletes.
“In fact, I don’t know if there are other events in which able-bodied athletes and Paralympic athletes compete with each other anywhere else in the world, because the T44 competitions are usually held separately. So it was definitely new.”
Both Nakanishi and Takakuwa said that they tried to take advantage of the rare opportunity to hit the sand with able-bodied athletes, observing what they do during the competition.
“I noticed that their approaching speeds are fast. Obviously the speed is important (in the long jump),” said 23-year-old Takakuwa, who’s primarily a sprinter. “And they were connecting their approaching speed with their jumps. So in that regard, it meant a lot for me, too.”
Two-time Paralympian Nakanishi said: “I was impressed with their ability to make adjustments during competition.”
London Olympic gold medalist (in the 4×100-meter relay) Tianna Bartoletta, an American who competed both in the women’s long jump and 100-meter dash on Sunday, said she’d never competed alongside Paralympic athletes, but agreed that it was meaningful.
Bartoletta said she spoke a little with Nakanishi.
“(Nakanishi) said she was (23) centimeters off of the world record (held by France’s Marie-Amelie Le-Fur),” Bartoletta said. “And she was looking at my jumps . . . and I just felt that that was so special.
“I wished her luck and told her to let me know when she breaks the world record.”
As much as they try to focus on improving their own performances, Nakanishi and Takakuwa know they also have to be representatives who help promote and educate people about Paralympic sports.
“It’s extremely important for us to let people know about our sports and what kind of disciplines we have,” said Takakuwa, who competed in the London Paralympics four years ago. “And I want them to know that you can’t go to the Paralympics so easily. We Paralympians train as hard as the Olympians. It’s no different.”
Nakanishi insists Paralympians will have to be more active to spread the word.
“People don’t really know when our events are held, so we need to promote through the media and that’s going to be our issue,” Nakanishi said.
The Japanese national team squad for the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics will be announced in late June.