Keiko Sugiura thought about retiring when she learned the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games would be postponed.
Had she done that, Sugiura would not have made history for her home country.
On Friday (3 September), the 50-year-old became Japan’s first double Paralympic champion in cycling – road and track – after a thrilling push down the home stretch to widen the gap between her competitors and to secure the women’s road race C1-3 victory.
“My coach was standing near to the finish line,” she recalled. “He was there to cheer me on and give me the momentum to get to the finish line.”
Sugiura completed the 39.6km course in 1:12:55, just 16 seconds ahead of the next three finishers who were separated by the slimmest of margins. It was Sweden’s Anna Beck and Australia’s Paige Greco taking silver and bronze, respectively.
For the Japanese cyclist, the gold added to her win a few days earlier in the time trial – another race she did not expect to win considering the bumpy road to her Paralympic Games debut.
“No, I didn’t think about (winning today),” said Sugiura, who incurred brain damage after a fall during a triathlon competition. “On this course you need to be strong in the finish, in the sprint. In the past I have raced a lot with these ladies and I was on top in the hill climbs but on the straight, to the gold, everybody overtook me.”
Sugiura won the time trial at the 2017 World Championships and road race at the 2018 Worlds, before claiming Worlds silver in both events the following year. But she felt ill during training last year. She did not ride her bike for a week and considered quitting.
“It was only three months ago I got my time trial bike. It is not easy to control but I did a lot of practice in the past three months for this,” she said after her time trial win.
“I’m really pleased that I didn’t quit. The people around me supported me to continue this sport. Maybe I’ll give speeches everywhere (about) how to win a gold medal at my age, promoting my story.”
As to whether she will continue competing, Sugiura just wanted to enjoy the moment.
“I will have a beer with my coach first. Then we will discuss my future plans.”
DUNLEVY DOES IT AGAIN
Ireland’s Katie-George Dunlevy is also leaving Tokyo 2020 with a pair of gold medals, having won the road race women’s B with pilot Eve McCrystal. The duo completed the 92.4km course in 2:35.52, almost a second ahead of Great Britain’s Sophie Unwin and pilot Jenny Holl.
It was an upgraded result from Rio 2016, where Dunlevy won the time trial and silver in the road race.
“Dream come true,” said Dunlevy summarising her time in Tokyo. “One thing that I’m really glad about is that this has been televised so all our friends and family can see what we’ve done for the first time and so that means a lot as well.”
Netherlands’ Vincent ter Schure won the men’s B event with pilot Timo Fransen to add to his time trial silver. The Rio 2016 champions were more than 10 minutes ahead of the rest for parts of the race.
Just before the finish line, the winners stepped off their tandem bike to finish the race on foot, with Fransen letting Ter Schure go first in a rare display of a vision impaired cyclist crossing the line before their pilot.
"We always say he's second and I get first in the race. Now he was first and I'm second," Fransen said.
After not making the podium in the time trial, France’s Kevin Cunf will return home as the Paralympic champion in the men’s C4-5.