Swimmer Takayuki Suzuki remains on track to meet his goal of winning a medal in every event in which he competes in at the Tokyo Paralympics after grabbing Japan’s first gold Thursday.
Five years since he finished without a medal at the Rio de Janeiro Games, the 34-year-old picked up his first gold medal since the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, coming from behind down the stretch to win the men’s 100-meter freestyle S4 category at Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
“I wanted to give my all in every race. I always want to swim like that, with that mindset, so I am very happy it resulted in winning gold,” he said a day after opening his fifth Paralympics with a bronze in the men’s 50 breaststroke SB3 class.
“I’ve already forgotten mostly about my gold at Beijing so it feels like I just received my gold medal with a new mindset. They are two separate things,” said Suzuki, who was born with a congenital limb deficiency.
He said becoming a Paralympic champion again was something he tried not to give too much thought to since he did not want the allure of returning to the podium’s top step to prevent him from giving his best.
“Of course (gold) was my goal, but I didn’t want to focus on that. If I start thinking about it, then I can’t really concentrate on my swimming,” he said.
He screamed with joy after he touched the wall in a Paralympic record of 1 minute, 21.58 seconds, finishing 1.63 ahead of 23-year-old Italian Luigi Beggiato, who led for most of the race.
A native of Shizuoka Prefecture, Suzuki was born with deficiency in both arms and legs. He started attending a swimming school in his first year of elementary school on the advice of his family.
He made his Paralympic debut at the 2004 Athens Games when he was still a high school student and has been at the forefront of Japan’s para swimming team ever since. In his first three Paralympics, he won three bronze medals and a silver, in addition to his gold in the 50-meter breaststroke SB3 class in Beijing.
After going without a medal in Rio de Janeiro, which he said was a shock at the time, he thought about quitting if he did not show signs of improvement.
But even as he enters his mid 30s, he saw new opportunities for growth that pushed him to keep swimming toward the Tokyo Games, he said. In the 2019 world championships, he took five medals, demonstrating to himself and his competition that he is far from a spent force in the sport.
“It’s been really encouraging to be able to see good results and feel that I was evolving, not just in swimming,” he said. “That motivates me to go further. I think I came this far because of that.”
Suzuki, who helped with Japan’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, said before the Tokyo Games that he would understand if the whole thing had to be canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Even though the lack of a crowd made the view from the top of the podium very different from what he saw during the Games in the Chinese capital 13 years ago, he said he cannot let the situation distract him from his goal.
“I didn’t really think about anything from the podium. I just wanted to breathe in this atmosphere and enjoy it,” he said. “Now that the Tokyo Paralympics are happening, I just need to continue to do my best.”
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