PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – After winning two bronze and a silver, Alpine sit skier Momoka Muraoka’s determination pushed her to win the best-colored medal at the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics
At 21, she became the youngest Japanese athlete to win gold at the Winter Paralympics when she topped the 10-woman field in the giant slalom at Jeongseon Alpine Centre.
Despite already having won medals in all three of her previous events and leading Japan in medals here, she was not ready to leave Pyeongchang without gold. She was even willing to risk ending her medal streak in a bid for the prime podium spot.
“I knew from the beginning that if I were to win gold, it would be today in the giant slalom, and I just wanted to win,” Muraoka said. “I’ve felt a little bit of pressure at these games, but it disappeared as I won medals one after another. And my desire to win gold just grew.”
“I told myself to be as aggressive as possible and not play it safe. It was a matter of either winning gold or falling.”
As her family cheered from the stands, Muraoka competed at full speed in her blue sit ski, the lightweight machine she uses for technical events requiring sharp turns.
Muraoka said that whenever she tries to focus on one thing, she gets so carried away that she can’t finish the race with a satisfactory time. This time, however, she said that she was able to ski calmly during her two runs — something she had never done in competition.
“I had so much adrenaline flowing but I was able to think critically like ‘I need to do this like that’ or ‘I need to be careful here,’ ” Muraoka said. “At these games, I’ve learned to be able to turn my gear up despite being in a really difficult situation both physically and mentally.”
Before the games kicked off, Akira Kano and Taiki Morii were among Japan’s strong Alpine gold medal favorites. But as Muraoka picked up one medal after another, she became the face of the Japanese delegation.
Muraoka sustained a spinal cord injury when she fell from her bed at age 4. She took up the sport during junior high school when she saw Morii and the Japan men’s team train at a course in Nagano Prefecture, and began training and following the group as if she were their younger sister.
Four years ago, she left the Sochi Games disappointed. She fell in one of her three events, and finished no better than fifth in the others. In Pyeongchang, she shined on her own and rejected the thought that she had surpassed her limits.
“Not even close,” she said. “I have not passed them. They are much higher, still.”