“I experienced both heaven and hell in those five fast-paced days.
Wheelchair rugby, also known as “Murderball” because of its intensity, was held on August 29 in the third-place match at the Tokyo Paralympics, where Japan overwhelmed the world’s No. 1 ranked team, Australia, which had lost at the previous Rio Olympics. They won their second consecutive bronze medal.
The next day, I spoke with ace Daisuke Ikezaki (43), and after reflecting on the event, he revealed the reason for Japan’s strength.
“The biggest reason for the victory was the performance of the players with severe disabilities. In wheelchair rugby, points are assigned to each player according to the severity of his disability. Players with light disabilities, including myself, are called “high pointers” and have high points. Players with more severe disabilities are called “low pointers” and have lower points. The total number of points for the four players on the court is limited, so it is important to have a balanced team.
In the third place game, Kae Kurahashi (30) and Yuki Hasegawa (28) were able to score efficiently by holding off the opponents’ aces. I think these two are Japan’s MVPs.
While relieved to have won the medal, Ikezaki said she was not truly satisfied with the result. Ikezaki said she was relieved to have won the medal, but was not truly satisfied with the result. In particular, she couldn’t accept the loss in the semifinals and cried tears of regret for the first time in her life.
“For the past five years since Rio, I’ve only wanted to win the gold medal, and for the past year and a half, I’ve had a personal trainer and devoted my entire life to it. For the past year and a half, I’ve had a personal trainer and dedicated my entire life to it, and still I couldn’t even try for the gold medal. I couldn’t stop crying as I felt despair for the first time. Then, that night, Yukinobu Ike, 41, the captain of the team, held a meeting for me.
When I went to the meeting, I was surprised to see that everyone’s eyes were swollen with tears. Seeing that, I was able to reconfirm that we were all feeling the same way. Ike inspired us to play the rugby we believed in until the end, so we were able to look forward again.
These national team members overcame major setbacks and fierce battles with their rivals. There is a person who revealed a surprising side of them to me. Kotaro Kishi, 49, who has been the oldest player in the Japanese national team for a long time.
“Ike is usually a serious and quiet captain, but he is surprisingly fashionable. After his disability, he used to design gardens for private homes to help his family’s business, and when he comes to Tokyo, he finds time to visit select stores for clothes and other goods. He also seems to be particular about how he wears his suits, and when he speaks at events, he agonizes over the detailed position of his pocket chief until the last minute.
Ikezaki is a big brother even in his private life. During the game, he yells and is so serious that it’s almost scary, but when the game is over, he takes the initiative to invite the team members to go out for dinner. One of the younger members said, “Please buy me yakiniku! I’m sure they miss me.
In Mr. Kishi’s opinion, the current Japanese national team is the strongest in history and is very close to the top of the world. However, they still have a lot of work to do.
“Many of the main players, including Ikezaki and Ike, are in their 40s. The future problem for the national team will be generational change. The future of the national team will be a generational change, and the playing environment must be improved in order to nurture young players. Partly due to the influence of Corona, there is only one barrier-free gymnasium in Tokyo where wheelchair rugby can be played. In addition, each wheelchair for competition costs more than one million yen. It is not uncommon for top players to break their wheelchairs within a year, so how to reduce the financial burden is an issue.
The World Championships will be held in October next year, and the Paris Paralympics will come after that. The challenge for the Japanese national team to reach the top will continue.
From the September 17, 2021 issue of FRIDAY
Photo： Mainichi Shimbun/Afro