RIO DE JANEIRO – Japan’s chance of winning its first gold medal at the Rio Paralympics was blown Monday when the four-member boccia squad was defeated by Thailand 9-4 in the mixed team BC1-2 final.
Still, the silver was the country’s first-ever Paralympic medal in the sport — which is similar to bocce and one of only two Paralympics sports that have no counterpart in the Olympic program — and one of three medals earned for Japan on the fifth full day of competition in Rio.
Blind swimmer Keiichi Kimura and the men’s 4×100-meter relay running team also contributed by adding a silver and bronze in their respective events, bringing Japan’s total medal count to eight.
At Carioca Arena, the Japanese mixed-gender boccia team of Yuriko Fujii, Takayuki Hirose, Takayuki Kitani and Hidetaka Sugimura took a 1-0 lead in the first end, but were held scoreless over the next four ends by the 2012 Paralympic gold medalists.
Japan fought back with three points in the sixth end but it proved to not be, enough though the team and head coach Mitsuteru Murakami still managed to get its names in the record book by earning its first medal since making its Paralympics debut at the 2008 Beijing Games.
“We did our best, and the results show where we stand now. I believe we were able to show people how attractive the sport of boccia can be,” said Hirose.
“The silver medal feels really heavy. I’ve never held a medal so heavy.”
Earlier at the Olympic Aquatic Stadium, Kimura touched the wall in 26.52 seconds to finish 0.95 second behind American Bradley Snyder in the men’s 50-meter freestyle in the S11 class.
“It was my first race but I set a personal best and I’m relieved,” said Kimura, who won silver in the 100 breaststroke and bronze in the 100 butterfly at the 2012 London Games.
At Olympic Stadium, the 4×100 relay team of Hajimu Ashida (T47), Keita Sato (T44), Tomoki Tagawa (T47)and Atsushi Yamamoto (T42) crossed the finish line in 44.16 seconds to claim a podium spot in the T42-47 class, while Germany took gold and Brazil silver.
“We’ve felt bitter (since the last Olympics), and this medal is the best thing I can hope for. I’m glad I didn’t give up running,” said Yamamoto in reference to Japan’s fourth-place performance in London.
T42-44 are classes for athletes with impairment in one or both legs, while T45-47 include athletes with impairment in one or both arms.
Elsewhere, in wheelchair tennis, two Japanese pairs — Shingo Kunieda/Satoshi Saida and Takuya Miki/Takashi Sanada — advanced to the semifinals in men’s doubles, securing the nation at least a medal.
In women’s doubles, Yui Kamiji and Miho Nijo will play for the bronze medal against Britain’s Lucy Shuker and Jordanne Whiley.
In goalball, the other sport that is unique to the Paralympics along with boccia, Japan downed Algeria 7-1 to wrap up the preliminary phase game for women with two wins, one loss and one draw.