Japan’s Kazuhiro Takahashi has spoken of what reaching the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games would mean to him as he enters what could be the last years of his career.
The 38-year-old Para ice hockey forward has been a crucial part of his country’s defense since 2002, including at their peak when they won silver at Vancouver 2010.
At the 2016 World Championships B-Pool, Japan advanced to the qualification tournament for PyeongChang 2018 to be held later in 2017.
Takahashi is looking forward to the next 12 months, and further to Beijing 2022.
"This might be my last one or two Paralympics and this time is in Asia...so this means a lot for me," he said.
The team is trying to rebound from a tough few years, and the potential for Paralympic qualification offers them new opportunities.
“Now we can focus on developing the team and finding new talents in the younger generation towards participating in the Paralympics,” Takahashi said. "After winning a medal at the Vancouver Paralympics, the Japanese sledge hockey team couldn’t catch the wave of the sport. Because of that they could not expand the sport in terms of popularity and had a hard time to find young talented players."
After more 15 years in the national side, Takahashi’s own commitment to the sport is unshaken:
“Before I go to the bed, I always watch recorded hockey games in order to have good images of goals and plays. And when I wake up I always overcome my doubt and trust myself. I respect my teammates.”
Takahashi believes that the Japanese team has one of the best passing games compared with other countries and can utilise high tech sledges, which are made in Japan. This leads to a speedy game.
At the core of their strength is the experience that exists within the team, and also the desire to make it to the biggest stage of all.
"In our team we have five or six people who have experienced the Paralympics and other members who have not,” Takahashi said. “So we want them to experience the Games, and I think it is great to feel how great the Paralympics is."
The dates for the qualification tournament for the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games will be announced shortly.
Before then, the 2017 World Para Ice Hockey Championships A-Pool will take place in Gangneung, South Korea, from 11-20 April.
World and Paralympic champions the USA, Worlds silver medallists Canada, Norway, Italy, Germany, South Korea and Sweden are amongst the teams expected to compete.
The top five teams will advance directly to PyeongChang 2018, whilst the bottom two teams will play at the qualification tournament.