It was a historic day for Japanese triathlon on Saturday as Hideki Uda won a silver medal in the men's PTS4 class, the country's first Paralympic medal in the sport, and Satoru Yoneoka won bronze in the men's PTVI class.
Uda clocked in at 1 hour, 3 minutes, 45 seconds, while Yoneoka finished in 1:02:20 alongside his guide Kohei Tsubaki at Odaiba Marine Park. Each athlete won their first Paralympic medal.
It was an emotional race for Uda, a native of Shiga Prefecture, who said he felt the presence of his supporters and friends behind him as he was on the course, their hopes and dreams accompanying his every stroke in the water, push on the pedals and stride down the road.
After crossing the finish line, he fell to the ground and cried. Then he got up, draped the Japanese flag around his shoulders and congratulated his fellow competitors.
"When I finished the race, I had a hard time controlling my emotions because I was overwhelmed with various feelings. I felt really happy running that final stretch."
He had traveled a bumpy road to reach the Paralympic stage in his home country.
When he was at the height of happiness, a mere five days after marrying his wife, Aki, he was involved in a life-threatening accident at his workplace that cost him his right arm. That was in 2013 and he was 26 years old.
But thanks to the tireless support of his family and friends, he was able to bounce back. He discovered triathlon about six months after the accident while he was in the process of rehabilitation.
He made his triathlon debut for Japan in 2015 and became the world No. 1 in July 2017, according to his website.
After reaching another milestone on Saturday, he called his family and shared the moment.
"It was far from a normal conversation because both (my wife and I) were crying so hard," Uda said after the medal ceremony.
For Uda, the Paralympics is a wonderful opportunity to change people's perceptions about what people with disabilities are capable of.
"I have disabilities, but I think this is a good opportunity for people to see me as a legit athlete," Uda said.
"Para athletes engage in the same level of training conducted by able-bodied athletes in terms of the quality and quantity to be on this stage."
With Uda setting the tone, Yoneoka snatched Japan's second triathlon medal.
"I was thinking about winning a medal the whole race," said Yoneoka, a 35-year-old Tokyo native.
Yoneoka was born without being able to see from his right eye and sustained retinal detachment in his left eye as the result of an accident at age 10. He completely lost his vision at age 25.
His guide suggested he give triathlon a go after he dabbled in marathons. He took up competitive triathlon in 2013.
Reflecting on Saturday's race, he said the key moment was when he entered his fourth and final lap of the run, the last of the three disciplines in triathlon.
"I was able to sense the leader up ahead and had the will to chase," he said.
"It was the toughest stretch in the race amid the intense heat but I was able to maintain my pace," Yoneoka said.
Japan's Yukako Hata, 40, finished sixth in the women's PTS2 class and her compatriot Atsuko Maruo, 47, came in 11th in the women's PTVI class.
American athletes dominated Saturday's triathlon competitions, bagging two gold and one silver.
Brad Snyder won the men's PTVI gold, Allysa Seely won the women's PTS2 gold, and Hailey Danz won the women's PTS2 silver.
The sport consisting of three segments — a 750-meter swim, a 20-kilometer ride, and a 5.0-km run — was introduced to the Paralympic program at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
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