The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games is a historic moment for Japan. Having first made its debut as host in 1964, Japan has sent a delegation to every Games since, with Tokyo the only city to host a Paralympic Games twice.
The opportunity for Japanese athletes on home turf is huge, especially building off their success from the Olympic Games. While swimming and athletics have brought the majority of their tally of 376 medals to date, there are possibilities across a wide range of sports.
With the Olympics having been delivered smoothly, hopes and expectations are on the Paralympic Games. Chef de Mission Junichi Kawai said: “I strongly hope that the Paralympics will also succeed. As the host country, I hope that athletes can show 100% of their performance. As a result, the medals will follow.”
There are some key athletes to follow for medal hopes as the Games kick off on 25 August.
Shingo Kunieda will certainly draw eyes in wheelchair tennis. Widely considered as the best player in history he stormed back to the men’s wheelchair tennis world No. 1 spot after some tough losses. With Grand Slam singles titles and Paralympic titles - gold in doubles at Athens 2004, and gold in singles at Beijing 2008 and London 2012 – the sky is the limit for this tennis champ. And the silver medal he got at Rio 2016? That makes Kunieda only hungrier to reclaim his crown at Tokyo 2020. He’ll be a key one to watch.
Shoko Ota is proud to compete in her first summer Paralympic Games after participating in three Winter Games, and in Para taekwondo, one of the new additions to the Paralympic programme. She shared her anticipation ahead of the home Games. “I decided to try to compete in the summer Games because it’s definitely a special occasion for the Paralympic Games to take place in my home country. These are obviously difficult times, but I’m thankful that the Paralympic Games will go on and that I can compete in it,” Ota said.
“Since getting into the sport of Para taekwondo, I’ve taken on many challenges. And I feel excited, finally being here at the Paralympic Games. I think Japan and the world are excited about this new sport and who its first champion will be. I will do my best to take on this challenge."
Para swimming would not be complete without the presence of the three-time Japanese Paralympian Kimura Keiichi. After winning two silvers and bronzes at Rio 2016 Keiichi is set on the gold for Tokyo. “I’m hoping to clinch the gold medal. My coach always praises me. He only says, ‘You can do it’, ‘I’m absolutely sure you won’t lose’ and ‘I know for certain that you’ll win’. He makes me feel I’ll never lose,” Keiichi said.
Three-time Paralympian Kimura Keiichi has hopes for gold at Tokyo Ⓒ Tokyo 2020
No preview of Japan Para sport would be complete without a spotlight on judo. With Japanese judokas still dominating the Olympic sport, it is hoped they continue their winning streak in Para judo. This could be possible with Takamasa Nagai, a visually-impaired athlete (B1), who boasts of his own style of judo. With expectations high at the home of judo, Nagai hopes to to deliver his first Paralympic title: “It will definitely be sad if Japan doesn't win any gold medals in judo, and there’s part of me that wants to win the gold medal for everyone," he said.
"I also personally want to win the gold medal for myself. Being at home soil, it would be even better if more people become interested in judo or aim to participate in the Paralympic Games by winning a gold medal myself,” Nagai concluded.
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games certainly hold expectations that go far beyond the field of play. Emphasising the importance of the Games for the Paralympic Movement throughout Japan, Junichi Kawai said: “I believe that the Paralympic Games are very important for Japan and the whole world.
“I think it will help us reconfirm the value of the Paralympic Games, as the first city to host the Summer Paralympic Games twice, as the first city in history to experience a one-year postponement due to the COVID-19."