RIO DE JANEIRO – The final day of competition in Rio on Sunday marked a humiliating moment for Japan, as the country finished its first Paralympics without a gold medal.
Japan earned a total of 24 medals — 10 silver and 14 bronze — in what turned out to be an anticlimactic 12-day event.
Just hours before the closing ceremony, a pair of Japanese athletes earned medals in the in T12 marathon for visually impaired runners, with Misato Michishita claiming silver in the women’s race and Masahiro Okamura earning bronze in the men’s event.
The mixed wheelchair rugby team also took bronze and made history by winning Japan’s first-ever Paralympic medal in the sport by defeating Canada 52-50.
But the three medals only served as an aching reminder that Japan will walk away from Rio without a gold medal, a first for the country at a Paralympics.
Japan had set a target of 40 medals, including 10 gold, but struggled to meet half that number. The country finished 64th in the overall medal standings, while China dominated with 107 gold.
The pressure was on for medal hope Michishita to deliver Japan’s first gold, but the 39-year old brushed aside the noise, looking far from disappointed with silver. She clocked 3 hours, 6 minutes and 52 seconds in the race, which was won by Elena Congost of Spain in 3:01:43.
“I’m so glad to have won a silver medal,” said Michishita, who made her Paralympic debut in Rio.
“I expected the temperature to go up, and the race went exactly the way I had imagined. I was able to race my race until the very end so I have no regrets,” she said.
In the men’s race, Okamura’s time was 2:33:59, 1:42 behind winner El Amin Chentouf of Morrocco. Two other Japanese, Tadashi Horikoshi and Shinya Wada, finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
In the women’s T54 marathon, Wakako Tsuchida barely missed a podium spot by coming in fourth.
In the wheelchair rugby bronze-medal match, captain Yukinobu Ike and Daisuke Ikezaki combined for 37 goals to help Japan improve on its fourth-place finish in the 2012 London Games, while Australia edged the United States 59-58 to win gold.
“Is this really happening? I’m so happy,” said the 50-year-old Koichi Ogino, who was named the Japan head coach despite not having any previous coaching experience.
“We couldn’t let our guard down until the last minute, but it helped that the players remained calm. I told them they could be the first-ever medalists (in Paralympic wheelchair rugby) and we prepared for that. They’re a great team,” he said.