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【Athletics】 London, Host to the 2012 Paralympic Games

The World Para Athletics Championships London took place in London Stadium from July 14 to 23, with over 1,150 athletes from approximately 90 countries and regions participating. The ten days of fierce competition produced around 30 world records and over 100 event records.

The ending of the Rio Paralympics started the new journey towards the 2020 Tokyo Games. The biennial World Championships is another important opportunity for athletes to find out their ranking.

Sato wins gold in two events, a great step-up from his silver at the Rio Paralympics

There were 50 Japanese athletes that met the strict qualifications for the event (for example, top ten world ranking), consisting of 21 men and 18 women with physical disabilities, and seven men and four women with intellectual disabilities. Japan took home 16 medals (2 golds, 5 silvers, 9 bronzes), a record high for Japan at the World Championships.

Experienced athletes showed stable, solid performances. Tomoki Sato, T52 class (wheelchair) Rio Paralympic silver medalist, won the gold in both the 400-meter and 1500-meter, defeating Rio Paralympic gold medalist Raymond Martin (US). He said proudly, "This is a good step forward towards Tokyo." Hirokazu Ueyonabaru, a 46-year-old in the same class as Sato, took home two bronze medals. He read the situation calmly to make sure he snatched third place.

Takada and guide Omori break a record with a concentrated jump

Atsushi Yamamoto in the T42 class (above knee amputation) was aiming for a third-consecutive gold in the long jump, but finished second by a mere six centimeters despite jumping his best of the season (6.44 m). However, his words show an optimistic outlook: "There are some techniques I still want to try. This loss will motivate me."

T47 class (upper limb impairment) athlete Sae Tsuji had a tough race in the 400-meter but managed to finish third, same as at the Rio Games. She sprightly commented that, although she started late in conditioning for this season, "If I only got one medal, people will think it was a fluke. During the race, my only thoughts were to get a medal.'"

The visual impairment class is where teamwork between the athlete and guide is a crucial element in winning. Chiaki Takada in the T11 class (complete blindness) demonstrated wonderful teamwork with her guide Shigekazu Omori and snatched silver in the long jump with a new Japan record (4.49 m). In the same T11 class, Shinya Wada and his guide Kotaro Minowa claimed the bronze in the 5000-meter. It was Minowa's first time to be a guide at an international event.

There were some happy first medals for long-timers as well. Mariko Fujita (53) finished third in the F36 class shot put, and Maya Nakanishi, who competed at the Beijing, London and Rio Paralympics, won bronze in the long jump (T44). Toru Suzuki, who finished fourth at the Rio Paralympics, took the bronze in the high jump (T44). Suzuki used the words, "There is a view that you can only see when you are there," to express his joy in winning the medal as a representative of Japan.

There were also some young athletes who gained confidence with their first medals. Twenty-three-year-old Hajimu Ashida (T47/ upper limp impairment) won the bronze in the triple jump. Nineteen-year-old Kaede Maegawa (T42/ above knee amputation) won silver, a step up after her fourth place at the Rio Paralympics, and 24-year-old Yuka Takamatsu (T38/ cerebral palsy, etc.) took silver in the 400-meter. Takamatsu broke her personal bests in all three events she competed in. Twenty-two-year-old Anjyu Furuya (T20/ intellectual disability) made a great start in her favorite 800-meter and claimed the silver.

Suzuki reached his dream of getting a medal with a jump over two meters.

Maegawa lives up to expectations with a medal

Let us not forget the group of first-time participants that did not get medals but put on a wonderful performance. Mana Sasaki, a 19-year-old T13 class (light visual impairment) athlete, placed fifth with a new Japan record (26.36) in the 200-meter, and placed sixth in the 400-meter. Mikio Ikeda, a 20-year-old T44 class (amputation) athlete, ran his personal best in the 100-meter preliminaries, and ran the anchor leg in the bronze-winning 4 x 100-meter relay. Twenty-one-year-old F46 class (upper limb impairment) athlete Akihiro Yamazaki placed fifth in the javelin throw, and made his personal best with the first throw.

Because the T54 (wheelchair) class has so many competitors, the "finalists" competed on different days. First-timers Tomoki Ikoma and Yuki Nishi both placed eighth in the 100-meter and 200-meter, respectively. Tomoki Suzuki, who fell out in the semifinals last time, placed fifth in the 800-meter and seventh in the 1500-meter. Sho Watanabe and Masayuki Higuchi finished fifth and seventh, respectively, in the 5000-meter. Marcel Hug (Switzerland), who is known as the No. 1 athlete in this class and who took home three gold medals at this event, commented on his impression of Japanese athletes: "There are more young, strong athletes. I envy them for having good rivals in their own country." Japan should utilize this advantage and attempt to improve as a team.

On the other hand, Japan team coach Junichi Kobayashi (Japan Para Athletics) said, "If you only look at the number of medals we got, it looks like we did well. But because this is right after the Rio Paralympics, some non-Japanese athletes did not compete or seemed to not be in top condition. I hope the Japan team members will compare their results with those of top athletes, and take their experience and issues into training for the 2020 Tokyo Games."

The most successful World Para Athletics Championships

Many fans came every day during the championships.

This was the first time for the World Para Athletics Championships to be held in the same year and at the same venue as the World Athletics Championships (August 4-13) hosted by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Both events are run by the same organizing committee. London is making the most of their know-how and legacy from the successful 2012 Paralympics. This was the most successful World Para Athletics Championships to date.

The London Stadium is located inside the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park of the 2012 Games. The venue is wheelchair accessible, and the sub-track is conveniently adjacent to the main track. The Olympic Park was re-developed as a metropolitan center, with lawn areas, playground equipment, cafes and more. It is used for a variety of events and is still a place of recreation for the community.

Although the event required the purchase of tickets (10–45 pounds for one adult), they sold over 300,000 tickets. This is the highest number sold in the history of the World Championships, and they say it is more than the combined number of tickets sold for all para sports events, excluding the Paralympic Games. The 2012 Games helped cultivate para sports fans, and the promotion campaign through posters, etc., was also effective. Over 30,000 people came during the weekend, and on the weekdays over 100,000 children came. At night, many of the spectators were seen with a beer in their hand, which is quite a difference from what you see in Japan.

Many of the spectators knew how to enjoy athletics and para sports. They applauded British as well as foreign athletes and boosted the event with their good manners. During his practice jump, high jumper Suzuki asked the crowd to clap for him, and he said "the fact that both I and the spectators enjoyed the run led to my good results." Blind athlete Takada said, "When I stood at the long jump pit, the venue naturally got quiet, and I was very touched by that."

There was live broadcasting every night from 7:30 pm, and there were also programs to promote para sports throughout the venue, such as videos explaining the different classes for each sport and fun, lively emcees. The pamphlet (for purchase) was slightly different every day—it included game times as well as stories about the favorites competing each day.

During the championships, we heard many encouraging messages from the British: "Before 2012, there was not this much enthusiasm in London. It changed in 2012. Tokyo will be great, too."

We can find hints for 2020 from how London was able to make this para athletics festival another success, five years after the excitement of 2012.

text by Kyoko Hoshino
photo by Getty Images Sport,Takao Ochi

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