It has been a few weeks since the Olympics has ended, but Tokyo 2020 isn’t over just yet. The Paralympic Games will take place from August 24 through September 5. Japan finished 64th on the medal table in Rio five years ago. They didn’t win any golds. The Japanese Paralympians are expected this time to make up the difference, with their countrymen tipped for the top of the chart. We look at the hard-working athletes who are striving to make it to the podium.
1. Shingo Kunieda
Winning the Grand Slam is every tennis player’s dream. It is an extraordinary feat to win more than 40 Grand Slams. Shingo Kunieda is the man behind this feat. Shingo Kunieda, 37 years old, has won everything — from the US Open to government commendations. But the ultimate prize for him is winning the gold medal in his country. Kunieda will be proving why he is the most outstanding male wheelchair tennis player of all time — and you can’t go wrong with his record.
2. Yui Kamiji
Yui Kamiji is set to be Japan’s upcoming Kunieda. She was ranked number 1 in the world at the Wimbledon Wheelchair Tennis Women’s Doubles. She is rated no. 2 in the world for singles. She was the first Japanese athlete to qualify for the Tokyo Paralympic Games in 2019. She also won bronze in Rio 2016 in singles and doubles.
Kaede Maegawa, demotivated two years ago, decided to quit her athletic career and leave Tokyo 2020. She decided to seek out help later. Now, it’s 2021, and the 23-year old athlete who stands fourth in the world in her category is all set. She has fully trained her body and mind. Maegawa, a champion for mental and physical health, is one of Japan’s most promising Paralympic competitors.
4. Akihiro Yamazaki
Jim Abbott, an American pitcher, was the one who introduced Akihiro Yamazaki to baseball as a child. He played from 1989 to 1999 in Major League Baseball. Like Abbot, Yamazaki’s right hand was missing when he was born, but it didn’t stop Abbott from being a top-notch athlete. Yamazaki followed in the footsteps of his idol and became a professional para-baseball pitcher. After a successful career, Yamazaki switched to javelin throwing to take part in the 2016 Paralympics. And a year lanter, he started breaking world records. He is currently ranked fifth in his category.
5. Yukinobu Ike
Japan’s national wheelchair rugby team is gaining momentum towards Tokyo 2020. They took first place at the 2018 World Wheelchair Rugby Championships and won a bronze medal at Rio 2016. They are currently ranked third in the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation’s rankings. Yukinobu, a veteran Paralympian, is the team’s captain and has the daunting task of leading them towards victory.
6. Wakako Tsuchida
Japan has won a staggering 179 Paralympic medals for Athletics. Wakako Takada holds three of them. She has been a Paralympian since 2000. She competed in the Winter Paralympics for the first time and since Sydney 2000, she has been a summer Paralympian. The athlete was the first to win medals in both Summer Paralympic Games and Winter Paralympic Games. Of total of seven medals she has, three are gold. She will be participating in two categories this time and proving her versatility.
7. Hiroshi Murayama
Hiroshi Murayama will be competing this time in para-badminton. This is a new sport to the Paralympics. At the sixth Daihatsu Japan Para-Badminton International competition in November 2020, he was the Japanese Para-Badminton Champion. He won gold in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles at Brazil’s 2018 Para-Badminton International tournament.
8. Junko Hirose
One of Japan’s most recognizable Paralympians is Junko Hirose. After being inspired by a manga comic, she became interested in judo as a child. However, she later gave up on the sport. She became a professional judoka after seeing the Paralympic Goalball women in action in London 2012. She became the first Paralympic Japanese medalist when she won a bronze medal in Rio four years later.
9. Naohide Yamaguchi
Naohide Yamaguchi started swimming as a child with the goal of becoming a Paralympian. He set a new world record for 100m breaststroke at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships. He broke the record again last year in Japan. The 20-year old athlete dreams of becoming a gold medalist and going faster, fulfilling his childhood dream.
10. Eiko Kakehata
When the Japanese women’s goalball team won a gold medal in London 2012, everyone had been in awe. Eiko Kakehata was one of the six winners. She has been playing for the Japanese National team for ten years. The experienced athlete hopes to return to the podium after a disappointing loss in Rio 2016. The Japanese National Team won the 2019 IBSA Goalball Asia-Pacific Championships. Now they are determined to replicate that success on the international stage.
11. Kanami Furukawa
Kanami Furukawa will compete in the Paralympic Games for the first time. She has been training for this event for over 10 hours per day. Furukawa is currently fifth in her category. According to Furukawa, the key to being a world-class athlete is having a positive mindset. She said, “I don’t know what it’s going to feel like, but I know that the Paralympic Games are special. I’ll work on maintaining a strong mindset that won’t crumble under any kind of situation, and I’ll be ready.”
12. Sarina Satomi
Sometimes a little encouragement is all you need to change one’s life. Sarina Satomi was encouraged by her father to become a para-badminton player after losing her legs’ ability following an accident. Hiroshi Murayama, a veteran player, wanted her competing internationally. Since then, she hasn’t looked back. Satomi was the 2019 world champion in women’s singles under the WH1 category. She won the sixth Japan Para-Badminton Championship Singles.
13. Tomoki Sato
Japan’s favorite for Tokyo 2020 is Tomoki Sato, a four-time world record holder. After watching London 2012 on TV, he began his Paralympic journey. “It shattered my notion of people with disabilities.” He said, “I thought at that moment, ‘I want this to happen,'” Sato won silver in Rio 2016’s men’s 400m T52 and 1,500m T52 events. In preparation for Tokyo 2020, Sato also became a full-time runner.