General

Japan Paralympic squad receives spirited send-off for Rio Games

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Paralympic sports have been receiving greater attention in recent years.

As a result, Japanese athletes were even more excited about competing in the upcoming Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games when they attended a warm send-off reception at a Tokyo hotel on Tuesday.

The Japanese delegation will dispatch a total of 127 athletes — 83 men and 44 women — and 65 coaches and staff members to Brazil for the Sept. 7-18 Paralympic Games. The nation set a goal of winning 10 gold medals and finishing within the top 10 in the gold-medal rankings for the 15th edition of the Summer Paralympic Games.

In the 2012 London Games, Japan captured five gold, five silver and six bronze medals and placed 24th in the gold-medal table.

Hiroya Otsuki, the leader of the delegation, said at a news conference that it would be his sixth Paralympics to get involved yet the circumstances for Paralympic sports in Japan have clearly changed over the years, partially thanks to the country’s capital, Tokyo, winning the right to host the next Summer Paralympics in 2020.

“In order for us to have a satisfactory Paralympics in 2020, how well we are going to perform in this Rio Paralympics will be important,” Otsuki said. “And I’m not referring just to what kind of results we will have, but it’ll also be important for our athletes to enjoy the moments.”

Making his fourth Paralympics, wheelchair basketball player Reo Fujimoto said that the Rio Paralympics would carry a little different meaning toward the Tokyo Games.

“I’ve played wheelchair basketball for 15 years, but I’ll be playing in this Rio Games a little differently,” said Fujimoto, who was named captain of Japan’s delegation. “How we’ll perform in it will determine where we will be on the map (of the Paralympics) toward the Tokyo Games in 2020.”

Yui Kamiji, a female wheelchair tennis player and two-time Grand Slam tournament singles winner, said: “It’s been my goal to win a gold medal in the Paralympics. Younger wheelchair tennis players have lately been increasing and to get even more attention for the sport when we have the Tokyo Games, we would like to do our best this time.”

Kamiji, 22, will be Japan’s flag bearer at the Rio Games.

Atsushi Yamamoto, a silver medalist in the men’s long jump (T-42 class) in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and a former world-record holder, said that he feels greater expectations for himself for this upcoming Paralympics than previous ones.

“I see more media reporters and I know that’s a sign of how much we are getting attention,” said the 34-year-old Yamamoto, who’ll compete in sprint disciplines in Rio as well.

Female track and field athlete Wakako Tsuchida is a Japanese Paralympic legend, having previously gone to six Paralympics, competing in both the Winter and Summer Games.

Tsuchida, 41, has participated in track disciplines in recent Summer Games (and speed skating in the Winter Games), but will focus just on the marathon in Rio, aiming to capture the gold.

The Tokyo native insisted that the 2012 London Games was the best Paralympics she’s ever been a part of, but she hopes the Rio Games will be a great experience.

“I’m excited about what we’ll experience in Rio,” said Tsuchida, who’s racked up seven Paralympic medals, including three golds. “And we’ll need to end the Rio Games on a high note so we’ll relay it to the Tokyo Games.”