Keiko Sugiura won the women's C1-3 road cycling time trial at the Tokyo Paralympics on Tuesday, becoming Japan's oldest-ever gold medalist at the age of 50.
Sugiura clocked 25 minutes, 55.76 seconds at Fuji International Speedway to triumph and rewrite the age record previously held by Takio Ushikubo, who was 46 when he won judo's 71-kilogram division at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
She also became the first female Japanese cyclist to win gold at the Paralympics and the fourth overall.
"I could put the plan I had before the race into practice. I wasn't nervous and managed to race while keeping myself focused," said Sugiura. "My pace dipped (in the latter half of the race) and I thought I might not make it (to the line first)."
Anna Beck of Sweden won silver in 26:18.03 and Paige Greco of Australia bronze in 26:37.54.
Sugiura has paralysis on the right side of her body and memory impairment having suffered a crush fracture to her skull when she fell in a cycling race, a sport she participated in as a hobby, in April 2016 when she was 45 years old.
The Shizuoka Prefecture native continued cycling as part of her rehabilitation, however, and quickly established herself as a top rider with the full support of the Japan Para-Cycling Federation.
Sugiura won road time trial gold at the 2017 world championships, road race gold at the 2018 worlds before winning silver in both disciplines at the 2019 worlds.
Her road to the Tokyo Games was not smooth, though. She complained of illness during training last summer, temporarily forcing her to leave the national team camp.
Sugiura did not touch her bike for a week and considered quitting the sport, with her participation in the Paralympics in the balance.
But an increase in medication, adjustment to her training volume as well as breathing exercises, all recommended by Japanese Paralympic Committee doctors, steadied her heart rate while riding, paving the way for a turnaround she described as her "lucky break."
Putting 60% to 80% of her power through her left leg caused Sugiura to suffer damage to her left hip joint in May, but she kept her preparations on track with the help of painkillers and high-altitude training.
"I'm really pleased that I didn't quit," she said. "People around me supported me to continue this sport. Maybe I'll give motivational talks everywhere on how to win a gold medal at my age."
Sugiura will bid for her second Paralympic gold in the road race on Friday.
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