Tomoki Sato won his second gold medal of the Tokyo Paralympics on Sunday, adding the men’s wheelchair T52 1,500-meter title to the 400 crown he claimed two days earlier.
The 31-year-old Sato, who won silver in both races at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, finished in a Paralympic record 3 minutes, 29.13 seconds at Tokyo’s National Stadium to take Japan’s gold medal tally to four.
In a repeat of the 400 podium, Raymond Martin of the United States once again took silver, 0.59 second off the pace, while Japan’s Hirokazu Ueyonabaru won his second bronze of the Games in 3:44.17.
Starting from the inside position, Sato led from the outset in what quickly became a two-man race with Martin, winner of both the 400 and 1,500 in Rio de Janeiro.
With the victory, Okayama Prefecture native Sato becomes both the reigning world and Paralympic champion over 400 and 1,500.
While disappointed he could not better his own world record of 3:25.08, Sato said he felt the weight of winning two gold medals after the games had been thrown into uncertainty by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The year (following the postponement of the games) was a struggle not only for athletes, but for many people. Athletes from each country came here determined to still perform at their peak, and with this in mind, I wanted to make sure I gave my best,” Sato said.
“I want to thank all the volunteers whose support has made the tournament possible.”
In Friday’s 400 final, Sato came from behind and only edged ahead of Martin at the finish line, but he got an early jump on his rival this time around.
“Martin is a fast starter. At the Rio and London Paralympics, as well as the 2015 Doha world championships, he broke away from the start. That’s the way he usually races. This was the first time he didn’t get in front of me at the start,” Sato said.
Diagnosed with myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord in 2010, Sato was inspired to take up wheelchair racing after watching Martin and others in action at the 2012 London Games.
The pair look set to continue their Paralympic rivalry at the 2024 Paris Games.
“Raymond has always been a worthy rival. We have grown up together helping each other,” Sato said.
The 50-year-old Ueyonabaru earned his third Paralympic medal, and second of the games, after holding off Austria’s Thomas Geierspichler down the home stretch.
“I’m glad (the Paralympics) could be held in the midst of the coronavirus,” he said. “It would be impossible to come this far without the help of medical workers. I will do everything I can to express my gratitude.”
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