Japan’s medalists recount highlights of Pyeongchang Paralympics

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

Sit skier Momoka Muraoka now realizes that she has become the athlete to beat after earning five medals at the Pyeongchang Paralympics, which wrapped up on Sunday.

Appearing in a talk show with four other Pyeongchang medalists in Tokyo on Tuesday, 21-year-old Muraoka insisted she will stay the same even after earning a medal in all five events that she competed in.

“I am what I am,” Muraoka said. “Before the Pyeongchang Games, I was chasing the world-class skiers. But now that I had the good outcome in the games, I became the one everybody will be chasing. It is pressure, but I want to make it my motivation.”

Muraoka won the gold in the Alpine skiing giant slalom and earned silver in the slalom and downhill, as well as bronze in the super-G and combined.

Joining Muraoka on stage were Taiki Morii of Alpine skiing, snowboarder Gurimu Narita and cross-country skier Yoshihiro Nitta.

“It was a great Olympics,” said Narita who won gold in the banked slalom SB-LL2 while grabbing bronze in the cross SB-LL2 and is also known as a YouTuber. “I think I could show people the reason I compete. By winning the medals, I hope I could give some hope to people who have handicaps.”

Narita used “challenge” several times to explain his attitude as an athlete.

“During the banked slalom, I made a challenge in the fifth turn of the race,” Narita said. “I made the angled turn into the corner to cut short my time, which I think I had a 60 percent of chance of falling. I always want to be the challenger. That mentality made me aggressive and brought the best outcome.”

Veteran skier Morii, the silver medalist in the men’s sitting slalom, emphasized the importance of improved equipment. Morii has a support team, called “Team Morii,” which includes motorcar engineers.

“Changing the equipment is sometimes challenging because you want to use skis you get accustomed to,” said Morii, who earned a silver for the fourth consecutive Paralympics and jokingly called himself a “silver collector.” “But the technology keeps improving. If you want to keep winning in para sports, you have to catch up to the improvement of technology. You should not be afraid of trying new equipment.”

Nitta, who won the gold medal in the men’s standing 10-km classical and took the silver medal in the standing 1.5-km spring classical, said he visited Pyeongchang every year starting three seasons ago to get used to the conditions of the snow and weather. He also had staff from Weather News provide him with up-to-date weather forecasts.

“In Pyeongchang, the weather changes unexpectedly,” Nitta said. “The weather forecast helped me a lot.”

Unlike the other three medalists, Nitta did not speak clearly about his future. Although denying he would retire, Nitta plans to rest for a while.

“I have come a long way to Pyeongchang, doing the hard training and workouts,” Nitta said. “Now I’m exhausted and can’t say, ‘Hey, my next goal is winning in the Beijing Paralympics,’ just yet. I take my time resting. Then when I feel like competing, I compete.”

The only athlete that showed interest in other sports was Morii, who said he is going to try some motor sports, though he did not give details. He expressed a desire to compete at the 2022 Beijing Games, and his ultimate goal is, of course, to win the gold medal, which he hasn’t achieved in the five games that he’s participated in.

“Yes, I want the gold medal. But I also want to take another silver as the collector,” Morii joked.