It's been half a year until the opening of the Paris Paralympic Games.

The challenge is to connect the interest in parasports, which has gained recognition through the Tokyo Paralympics, to the Paris Games and make it more established, and the question is whether the training and strengthening of athletes that sports organizations have been promoting can bear fruit. It will be.

There are six months until August 28th, when the opening ceremony of the Paris Paralympic Games will be held.

The Paralympic Games will be held in the French capital, Paris, for the first time, and up to 4,400 athletes are expected to participate in 549 events across 22 sports.

Athletes from each country will march down the Champs-Élysées, and the opening ceremony will take place at Place de la Concorde. The tournament will be held in the heart of the city, with the stadium at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, a World Heritage Site, serving as the venue for blind soccer matches. It will be done.

So far, 10 Japanese athletes have been selected to represent Japan in five sports, including wheelchair tennis, competitive swimming, boccia, and table tennis.

Among them, wheelchair tennis player Kaito Oda, who became the youngest player in history to win the French Open at 17 years and 1 month old, and Hidetaka Sugimura, who won the individual gold medal in boccia at the Tokyo Games, have won medals. is expected.

In addition, the team sports that have qualified so far include wheelchair rugby, which won bronze medals in two consecutive tournaments, men's and women's goalball, and blind soccer, of which men's goalball and blind soccer For the first time, I qualified on my own.

This April, the women's wheelchair basketball team will compete in the final world qualifying round in Osaka to compete for the right to participate in the Paralympic Games, and the World Para Track and Field Championships will be held in Kobe in May, so the race to select the national team is in full swing. Masu.

The last Tokyo Games were postponed for a year due to the effects of the new coronavirus, and despite the fact that there were no spectators in principle, the sports organizations received a lot of support from companies and others in order to prepare for the games to be held in their home countries. As a result of these efforts, the Japanese team won 51 medals, the second most medals in history, and the visibility of parasports has improved.

The challenge is to connect this to the Paris Games and make it a reality, and the question will be whether the training and strengthening of athletes that the sports organizations have been promoting can produce results at the Games.

Expectations are high for young people due to generational change

After the Tokyo Paralympics, a generational shift has begun to take place in the world of parasports, and it is expected that young athletes who are active around the world will win medals at the Paris Games.

Wheelchair tennis player Shingo Kunieda, who was a leading wheelchair tennis player and greatly contributed to raising the profile of para sports, retired last year, and para track and field athlete Sae Tsuji, who won a bronze medal at the Rio de Janeiro Games, finished her last year at the Paris Games. Veterans who have been leading Japanese parasports for many years are retiring one after another, including announcing their intention to retire in 2019.

On the other hand, there is wheelchair tennis player Kaito Oda, who became the youngest player in history to win a Grand Slam tournament at the age of 17, and 17-year-old Kinoshita, a rising star in competitive swimming who has broken Japanese records in nine events and Asian records in four events in just over a year and a half. The progress of athletes who are active around the world is remarkable, such as Aira and Daiki Ishiyama, who placed 4th in the visually impaired class at last year's World Track and Field Championships and earned a spot to participate in the Paris Paralympic Games. It is expected that people in their 20s will play an active role.

Wheelchair tennis: Kaito Oda “I want to gain confidence that any player can win”

Kaito Oda, a 17-year-old wheelchair tennis player who is expected to win the gold medal at the Paris Paralympics, is off to a good start in the Paris Olympics and Paralympics year, winning his third victory at last month's Australian Open, his first Grand Slam tournament. I did.

Oda said, ``I got off to a good start.The matches were good, so I felt like I was getting stronger, and I was in pretty good shape.''

Regarding his first participation in the Paralympic Games in Paris, where the Arc de Triomphe is the site of his name, he expressed his determination, saying, ``I will definitely win because I feel connected to it.'' Since it's a limited time, I want to practice hard before the Paris tournament and gain confidence that I can win no matter who the players are if I play this type of tennis, and I want to show a performance that will make people think, ``I can't do this.'' Ta.

Unearthing a “rough stone” with hidden potential

The ``J-STAR Project'' is producing these athletes.

The government launched the organization seven years ago in an effort to change the situation in which it has less funding and manpower than Olympic sports organizations, making it difficult to discover young athletes.

The project begins with a ``basic measurement session,'' where participants are tested on 13 items to measure their basic physical strength, such as grip strength and jumping ability, and the person in charge of training at the competition group determines their aptitude.

If you pass the exam, you will proceed to a one-year program that measures your specialized abilities and the government covers the training costs.

If the athlete is judged to be promising, he or she will receive specialized guidance as a training athlete for a competitive organization, with the aim of competing in international competitions or the Paralympic Games.

The number of people wishing to participate in the project in 2021 reached a record high of 295, due to increased awareness of parasports due to the Tokyo Games.

The Japan Para Athletics Federation is producing athletes who are active on the world stage from this project.

The federation accumulates data by regularly recording participants in all events, including sprinting and javelin throwing, while they undergo specialized training for one year.

This huge amount of data is the key to identifying players.

To what extent can you develop your abilities with specialized guidance?

It is said that by comparing this data with the participants' records, it is possible to determine the possibility.

Noriaki Kusumoto, who is in charge of training at the Japan Para Athletics Federation, said, ``Our goal is to find athletes who can win medals at international competitions, and we think records are important, so this is important data that will serve as an indicator of how far we can improve.'' We were talking.

Challenges in project utilization

On the other hand, there are some competitive organizations that are unable to take advantage of this project.

The Japan Horseback Riding Association for the Disabled says that the project's measurement sessions do not include items that measure things like the trunk necessary for equestrianism, so they are unable to find new athletes.

Furthermore, there are big obstacles that stand in the way of trying to discover players on your own.

That is "financial difficulties".

The association's income in 2022 is approximately 83.5 million yen.

Approximately 90% of this money is covered by subsidies and can only be used for horse lease fees and expedition expenses.

Revenue from sponsors, which is used to cover the costs of finding players, is said to have been cut in half after the Tokyo Games.

Masatoshi Kono, secretary general of the Japan Horseback Riding Association for the Disabled, said, ``We have very little self-funding.If the sport doesn't become more popular, we won't have more athletes.The big challenge is that we're not making progress in discovering athletes.''

In an effort to overcome this situation, nine competitive sports organizations such as fencing and shooting, which have been facing financial difficulties since last year, have collaborated.

Last month, we held a trial session for para athletes in Hekinan City, Aichi Prefecture, and are working hard to secure sponsors and funds to find athletes.

Yoshimi Kaji, a paracanoeist who participated, said, ``We are facing challenges such as not having enough funds to carry out our activities and not having a place to compete.We would like to see help in these areas, but it is difficult to get people to pay attention to us. I hope that by holding an event together, voices that cannot be heard by one organization will be more easily heard.''