• Kyodo

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Having won five medals at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics, Japan’s Momoka Muraoka is trading her sit ski for a race wheelchair so she can make her Summer Games debut in Tokyo following a year of challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Muraoka, who won Paralympic gold in the women’s sitting giant slalom in 2018, will compete in the 100-meter T54 class at the Tokyo Games and is hoping to provide the same kind of excitement she did in Pyeongchang, where she won half of Japan’s 10 medals.

“I know the task is big, but I want to build my strength and do my best,” she said in June after she was guaranteed a spot at the Tokyo Games, adding her goal was to reach the final of her event.

Muraoka, who has used a wheelchair since she was 4, made her Paralympic debut in 2014 in Sochi, where she finished off the podium.

She started training to earn a place at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics in spring 2019, while also aiming for a spot at the 2022 Beijing Paralympics.

She broke the national record in the women’s 100-meter T54 class in July 2019 by finishing in 17.38 seconds at a meet in Tokyo, before trimming over a second from the record in January last year at an event in Australia.

But the postponement of the Tokyo Games due to the coronavirus pandemic presented her with a fresh challenge, with the Summer and Winter Paralympics now only about six months apart, causing the qualification schedule to overlap.

While she said she was conflicted over whether she should choose to focus on Tokyo or Beijing, she announced her decision in June last year to aim for both.

“I thought about choosing either athletics or skiing, but having concentrated on athletics for about a year, I started to feel determined as a competitor, and I wanted to compete at the Paralympics in both sports no matter what and win medals,” Muraoka said at the time.

“It took me about a week to decide, but it was difficult for me to think about giving up on athletics,” she said. “I may be greedy, but I couldn’t give up on either one.”

This year, Muraoka went back and forth between athletics and downhill skiing. She clinched a spot for Tokyo in May, and the Japan Para-Ski Federation announced her as one of 12 athletes assured of a spot at the Beijing Games last month.

“I am so glad I didn’t give up on balancing (wheelchair racing) with skiing. I want to show my best,” she said.

When she was 4 years old, Muraoka developed a disease that caused paralysis in her lower body. She started skiing in junior high school but also enjoyed participating in marathons in her wheelchair.

At the age of 21, she became the youngest Winter Paralympian from Japan to win gold when she topped the podium at the Pyeongchang Games. She won a medal in every event in which she competed in, bagging two silver and two bronze.

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