【Snowboarding】Gurimu Narita Victorious at The Japan Showboard Championships
With the opening of the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympics coming in a little over a year, para snowboarders gathered at the only para snowboarding event in Japan, the 3rd Japan Para Snowboard Championships & Supporters Cup. The event was held at the Hakuba Norikura Ski Resort (Nagano prefecture) on Feb 18 and 19.
The championships were for snowboard cross in three classifications: above knee amputation, below knee amputation, and other lower limb impairment. Currently the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) uses the three classifications of SB-UL (upper limb impairment), SB-LL1 (significant lower limb impairment, above knee amputation, etc.) and SB-LL2 (lesser lower limb impairment, below knee amputation, etc.), but this event uses a different, original set of rules.
Snowboarding is still a young sport in the Paralympics. The snowboard cross event was first added to alpine skiing in the 2014 Sochi Games. In the 2018 PyeongChang Games it will be an independent sport with snowboard cross and banked slalom events. Japan will be sending its first representative athletes to PyeongChang.
World Cup bronze medalist Narita, a favorite for PyeongChang!
Narita showing a bright smile
In Japan, snowboarding just became qualified for the high performance program of the Japan Para-Ski Federation in the 2016–2017 season. The first seven athletes selected for the high performance program were primarily pooled from high-ranking athletes in the same snowboard championships held last year. One prominent figure is Gurimu Narita, who won bronze in the SB-LL2 class men's snowboard cross at the Para Snowboard World Cup held in the U.S. in February. Narita grew up in an environment that encouraged him to take the athlete's path—his brother and sister, Domu Narita and Mero Imai, are both half-pipe snowboarders and Olympians. He has a spectacular history—he has not only tried diverse sports such as wakeboarding, trampoline, snowboarding and freestyle skiing, but also has done well in all of them. He is a rare genius athlete in Japan's sports community. In March 2013 he was selected as Japanese representative in men's half-pipe for the Freestyle World Ski Championships, a significant push towards his dream of attending the Olympics. However, in the spring of the same year he injured his left leg during training on a trampoline. His leg was paralyzed, so he changed his dream to attending the Paralympics and began training in athletics and snowboarding.
At the last championships, the first he attended, he won gold and was then selected for the high performance program. He finished fourth at a race in the Netherlands in November 2016, which he had attended to determine his international classification, causing heads to turn and other non-Japanese athletes to ask, "Who is that?" He then won two world cups, and as mentioned above, finished third in the Para Snowboard World Cup. He is now a favorite for a medal at PyeongChang. He won these championships for the second consecutive year with a very stable race. "In sports with scoring, there is some influence from the judges that give you the score. But in snowboard cross and banked slalom, the fastest person wins, period. That is new and fun to me." Narita's performance still seems full of potential for growth. We expect to see him get even better as he trains harder and attends more races.
In the above knee amputation class, Rio medalist beats Oguri
Yamamoto excited spectators with a win at his first championships
Another athlete that garnered attention was Atsushi Yamamoto. He won silver in athletics long jump at the Rio Paralympics, and the fact that he was attending this snowboard event itself was a surprise to most. On top of that, he won the above knee amputation class race to the astonishment of everyone.
It is too early, however, to assume these results mean he can attend the PyeongChang Paralympics. Yamamoto won because Daichi Oguri, Yamamoto's racing partner, fell during the first half of the course and was not able to regain the distance. There is still a substantial difference in capability between the two athletes—Oguri has won medals at world cups. That said, this difference is obvious, considering it was Yamamoto's first race, and perhaps we should rather focus on his physical skills and ability to adapt, developed through his athletics training, and recognize that this race shows his potential in the sport.
Might be a rival
Oguri, the top Japanese player in the above knee amputation class, even said, "He might become a rival." However, this may have been lip service to the press. His following words, "Right now I want to focus only on improving my skills," reveal his true intention and strong determination to compete at the world level. Narita and Oguri are the two athletes that are closest to qualifying for PyeongChang.
Meanwhile, if Yamamoto decides to aim for PyeongChang starting now, his path will not be easy, but he has a way of making you feel he might have a chance.
今Sixteen snowboarders attended the championships, including one female athlete. There were no athletes with upper limb impairments. There was also significant disparity between the athletes' abilities and few satisfyingly competitive races, a shame because that is the best part about this sport. All para sports face the challenge of discovering new stars and increasing the number of competing athletes, but the para snowboarding world, which is just starting, needs an immediate and effective action plan. There must be more snowboarders with disabilities still undiscovered around Japan. The performance of Japanese athletes at the PyeongChang Games will certainly direct those snowboarders towards the Paralympics. We would like to shout out our encouragement to these athletes, who will take on the role of cultivating the world of para snowboarding in Japan.
Oguri, a snowboarder in the above knee amputation class
The finals, held on the second day
text by Isao Horikiri,photo by X-1