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Japanese Athletes Bring Home More Gold from Athens (October 28, 2004)

Narita Mayumi
Narita Mayumi, winner of seven gold medals (Jiji)
With the country still in the afterglow of the Athens Olympics, September saw another group of Japanese athletes descend on Greece for another Games. The Athens Paralympics, the twelfth quadrennial competition for disabled athletes, was held September 17-28. Japanese athletes captured a whopping total of 52 medals: 17 gold, 15 silver, and 20 bronze, setting records for both total medals and gold medals and continuing with the torrid pace set by the Japanese team at the regular Olympics.

Interest in the Paralympics in Japan began to grow on the occasion of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Many members of the public enjoyed being able to see disabled athletes compete at a higher level than most able-bodied people are capable of. Television stations and newspapers reported heavily on the event, and the general public became aware of the Paralympics as a major sporting event.

Nearly 4,000 athletes from a record 136 countries participated in the Athens Paralympics, taking part in 19 events over a period of 12 days. Japan sent its largest team ever - 163 athletes.

Narita Leads the Way with Seven Gold Medals
Expectations for the Japanese team were great as the Paralympics got underway, and the participating athletes did not disappoint. Leading the way was physically disabled swimmer Narita Mayumi. This 34-year-old woman took gold in seven events, including the relay, breaking six world records in the process and besting her total of six gold medals at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics. Narita also took a bronze medal to put her on the winners' podium a total of eight times. She expressed her satisfaction, "I'm surprised at what I was able to do myself."

Also in swimming, blind swimmer Kawai Junichi won gold in the men's 50-meter freestyle for the third-straight Games.

An Athlete for All Seasons
Participating in the Paralympics for the first time, Takada Toshihiro won gold in the men's wheelchair 400 meters, 5,000 meters, and marathon. The 39-year-old competitor is also involved with the welfare of the disabled in his job at the Fukui City Office. In the women's wheelchair marathon, Hatanaka Kazu and Tsuchida Wakako finished first and second, respectively. In addition, Tsuchida won the women's 5,000-meter wheelchair race, making her the first Japanese athlete to win a gold medal at both a summer Paralympics and a winter Paralympics, as she captured gold in the ice sledge race in Nagano in 1998.

Also competing was Yasuoka Choke, a Thai-born naturalized Japanese who had participated in wheelchair racing at the Athens Olympics, where it was a demonstration sport. Yasuoka entered three wheelchair races in the Paralympics. Though he unfortunately suffered a crash with another competitor in the 1,500-meter race, he took gold in the 800 meters and silver in the 400 meters.

Japanese athletes performed admirably in other events, too. Fujimoto Satoshi won the gold medal in the 66-kilogram (145 pound) weight class for blind judo for the third-consecutive Paralympics, while Saida Satoshi and Kunieda Shingo won Japan's first-ever gold medal in men's doubles wheelchair tennis.

Giving Hope to the Disabled
The captain of the Japanese contingent, wheelchair racer Nagao Yoshifumi, expressed the goal of the team when he declared before the Paralympics, "We will become the light of hope for people with disabilities." Nagao himself won a bronze medal in the wheelchair relay, and the Japanese team succeeded in providing dreams and excitement not just to the disabled but to Japan as a whole, with ordinary people learning about the wonder of sports through the performances of these athletes.

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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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