Kanami Furukawa challenges the world with signature crouching servesJapanese Para table tennis player prepares to make her debut at home Paralympics in Tokyo 24 Feb 2021
Japanese table tennis player Kanami Furukawa was searching for “a killer technique” that could catapult her into the world rankings’ top places when she watched Olympic champion Ding Ning’s intriguing crouching serve.
Furukawa was impressed at the Chinese’s technique and decided to use it as inspiration. With the support of her coach, she was able to master it and turned it into her signature move.
As she tosses the ball, Furukawa crouches and uses the downward velocity to hit the ball with the force of her entire body, adding a strong spin so the ball curves sharply to the left or right. This makes it difficult for the receiver to return the ball.
“You have to use your whole body, and the timing is crucial and difficult. My racket didn’t even touch the ball at first. I dedicated two hours every day just to practise the serve.
“My best moment is to see everyone around me really happy when I win a match. It also feels great when I master a new technique that I can use to beat my opponent.”
Furukawa worked repeatedly on her form without using the ball and by mastering the technique, she has become a world-class player and a strong medal contender ahead of her home Paralympics in Tokyo.
Always passionate about sport
The Fukuoka-born athlete was in elementary school when she was diagnosed with a mild intellectual impairment and autism spectrum disorder. When Furukawa entered middle school, she had no prior experience in sport, but was interested in joining a sports club. And that's when she encountered Para table tennis.
However, because of her condition, things were challenging for Furukawa when she first started playing.
She couldn’t remember the name of the equipment, the terms associated with the sport or how the game was decided. But her peers around her encouraged and supported her.
“My classmates were very nice to me. I had to ask them a question over and over again, but they helped me every time. My sister, who is a year younger, also played table tennis and helped me out, too.”
Her coach at the time told her: “Do what you like”, and Furukawa took part in official matches during her first year.
“The older members on the team praised me when I won. The more experience I got, the more I learnt to enjoy playing.”
Gradually, Furukawa became completely absorbed in the sport.
Becoming the best player she can be
Furukawa has three mottos for victory: “don’t give up”, “enjoy the game” and “focus on yourself”. As an elite athlete, she spends over 10 hours a day training. Sometimes she practices with the club's older members - those who are already out of school and are working - as part of her training to get accustomed to different styles of playing.
However, when she was younger, she didn't really think of table tennis as a career.
In 2015, when she was just a senior in high school, she was already playing at international competitions but was planning to stop after graduation. But upon taking her parents' advice, Furukawa joined her current club the following year which had a better training environment.
At the new club she was able to play at a higher level.
Aiming for the Tokyo 2020 Games
After becoming the world no.5 in her class last March, Furukawa was declared a contender for Japan's Tokyo 2020 Para table tennis team. Now, she is eager to play in her first Paralympic Games.
“I don’t know what it’s going to feel like, but I know that the Paralympic Games is special. I’ll work on maintaining a strong mindset that won’t crumble under any kind of situation, and I’ll be ready,” she said.
When Furukawa pictures herself at Tokyo 2020, she is visualising the moment she wins gold.
“I’ve been imagining it for a long time. Winning the medal is my first goal, and my ultimate goal is the gold medal. Imagination is important, you know. I’m getting my motivation up by telling myself, 'I’m playing in the final'.”
One aspect Furukawa enjoys about playing table tennis is the relationship she has with fellow players - she not only has friends across Japan but around the world.
“We speak different languages, but the atmosphere gets us excited and we share the joy of meeting again. I bring items from Japan and we exchange gifts too. I always look forward to travelling abroad,” she said.
Looking back on when she started table tennis, there were many things about the sport that she didn’t understand but a decade on and a number of victories, Furukawa has mastered her craft.
With each experience and achievement she gains at international competitions, she is on track for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
“I want to show the gold medal to everyone that has supported me over these years.”