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【Swimming】Japan Intellectual Impariment Championships Swimming Event

The "20th Japan Intellectual Disability Championships Swimming Event" took place on June 11 at the Yokohama International Swimming Pool.

This event is held once a year to determine the best long-distance intellectual disability (ID) swimmers in Japan. Many athletes train with the goal of attaining their personal best at this event, and every year yields great performances. This year there were eight new Japan records—including Keichi Nakajima's 26.97 in the 50-meter Butterfly and Amisa Kitano's 1:27.22 in the 100-meter Breaststroke—and 22 event records.

Top athletes and younger swimmers alike exhibited exceptional drive, most likely in preparation of the upcoming "2017 World Para Swimming Championships" to be held this September in Mexico City and the "2017 INAS Swimming Championships" to be held this November in Morelia City, Mexico.

Tsugawa comes back from his slump after the Rio Games

Friendly rivalry helps support breaking records.

The athlete that created the most buzz at this event was Takuya Tsugawa, Rio Paralympic bronze medalist in the men's 100-meter Backstroke. This time he competed in the 400-meter Individual Medley and 200-meter Backstroke, and achieved his goal of breaking the 400-meter Individual Medley world record with a time of 5:00.35. Taiga Hayashida, another Rio Paralympic swimmer, kept close until the end, but Tsugawa pulled forward with his characteristic stamina. After the race, Tsugawa and Hayashida were seen shaking hands and congratulating each other's performance.

A ceremony was hastily prepared to honor the new world record, and Tsugawa commented on his emotions from the podium: "I felt gratitude (for the applause from the spectators, etc.)." According to Masahiro Tsugawa, Tsugawa's father and coach, his motivation dropped after the medal at Rio and he was finishing second at many events. This turned around after making the World Para Swimming Championships Dispatch Standard Time at the Para Swimming Spring Meet held in March. His strategy to "swim the last lap without breathing" (Masahiro Tsugawa) went well, resulting in a great race to propel the athlete towards the World Para Swimming Championships in September.

Tsugawa proudly talked of the points he focused on since Rio: "I trained hard on the start, turn and touch."

His second race was the 200-meter Backstroke, for which he holds the world record. This race ended with a relatively normal time, most likely due to fatigue, but Tsugawa wore a refreshed expression after his interview with the press. The new world record, a result of his continued training, must have given him renewed confidence.

Momentum for the World Para Swimming Championships

Tsugawa was born with an intellectual disability and two sports-loving parents, who say were looking for an activity for their son when they realized how content he looked in the bathtub. They began taking him to the local pool to play, then later signed him and his siblings up for swimming classes.

With coaching from his father, an amateur swimmer, Tsugawa gradually gained strength and became good enough to attend international events. At age 20, he placed sixth in the 100-meter Backstroke at the London Paralympic Games, and at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games he grabbed the bronze medal in the same event.

One of his training focuses was on starting races strong, and this helped him snatch the bronze in Rio. It is because Tsugawa listened well to his coaches, including his father Masahiro. This was true at this event as well—he overcame his tendency to take a breath right before the finish line. His personal best became a new world record.

On a side note, the two events in which Tsugawa holds world records (200-meter Backstroke and 400-meter Individual Medley) have not been included in the Paralympic Games in recent years.

At the World Para Swimming Championships, Tsugawa is hoping for a medal in the 100-meter Backstroke.

He said, "My goal is to swim the 100-meter Backstroke in 1:03.10, and the 200-meter Individual Medley in 2:18.03. I will try my hardest to get a gold medal."

Becoming a role model for other ID swimmers

Tsugawa smiling at the ceremony
photo by Asuka Senaga

This 20th Japan Intellectual Disability Championships Swimming Event attracted 945 entrants, approximately twice as many compared to ten years ago. This shows the rising popularity of ID swimming, and Paralympic medalist Tsugawa is definitely one contributor.

At the 2012 London Paralympics, Yasuhiro Tanaka inspired many swimmers with disabilities with his gold medal in the 100-meter Breaststroke. Tsugawa has also been a trailblazer; for example, he was the first ID athlete to find work through the "Asunavi" website of the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC).

Because of his gentle and polite speech, Tsugawa is known as the "calming" para swimmer and was featured in many TV commercials during the Rio de Janeiro Games. He offered words like "I like trying hard" and "(to himself ten years ago) It is fun and your friends are waiting."

Internationally active players help spread the sport and inspire other athletes who are aiming for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

We truly look forward to the new role models that will emerge henceforth, and hope to see Tsugawa grab a second medal at the Tokyo Paralympics coming up in 2020.

text by Asuka Senaga
photo by Shugo Takemi
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