“I have learned that if you don’t make the finals or the podium at the Paralympics it’s never going to be fun to just swim there. So I really want to try and step up my level so that I can actually be really competitive at the worlds this year and Paralympics next year.”
It comes as little surprise to learn what is foremost in the thoughts of Japanese swimmer Mei Ichinose. The 21-year-old, who has a Japanese mother and a British father and competes as an S9, was a darling of her country’s media ahead of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games but failed to make a final in any of her six events.
With the Tokyo 2020 Games looming into focus on every athlete’s horizon, Ichinose is determined to make up for her disappointment in home waters.
“Since Rio was finished my goal was to be on the podium at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics,” she said, speaking at the Melbourne 2019 World Para Swimming World Series, where she won the gold medal in the women’s 200m individual medley, and also reached the final of the 100m butterfly.
“Having the Paralympics in our home country is really a big thing. I feel really happy to be an athlete when the Games are going to be held in our country.”
With the eyes of Japan’s sport lovers once again likely to be pointing keenly her way, Ichinose is determined to live up to expectations after the disappointment she felt as an up-and-coming teenager in Brazil.
“I have learned that if you don’t make the finals or the podium at the Paralympics it’s never going to be fun to just swim there,” she said.
“So I really want to try and step up my level so that I can actually be really competitive at the worlds this year and Paralympics next year.”
Learning from the best
One step towards that improvement in performance has come with the decision to relocate from Japan to Australia’s Sunshine Coast and train with the USC Spartans club, and learn alongside that country’s six-time Paralympic gold medallist and triple world-champion Ellie Cole.
The move means Ichinose has certainly been operating among some high achievers in the sport. The Spartans club boast 10 current Olympians and Paralympians among their squad, which is led by Australia’s Rio 2016 head coach for swimming, Chris Mooney.
The fact that the impressive Cole has recently moved under the tutelage of Simon Cusack, who also coaches the multi-Olympic and World Championship winning sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell, speaks volumes about the circles in which Ichinose is now moving. She is clearly aiming high.
“Since the 2017 winter in Japan - summer here [in Australia] - I’ve been training with the USC Spartans for three or four months [at a time],” the Japanese swimmer said.
“Last year I stayed at Ellie’s house and trained with her for the whole three months.
“It’s hard to put into words, but it was really an amazing experience. I’ve learned so much. She is my role model. She’s an amazing athlete, but she is also an amazing person. It was so nice to spend time with her and learn from her.”
It may be four years later than the expectant Japanese media were hoping, but all the hard work, commitment and sacrifices being made mean that Ichinose’s chances of Paralympic success second time around are good. It will be a hugely positive experience for a determined athlete who is likely to be one of the faces of the Tokyo 2020 Games.