By Masa Takaya on 17/02/11 at 8:35 pm
The International Paralympic Committee’s decision to add Paratriathlon to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games programme only happened late last year, but big gains are being made already.
In the year 2011, the momentum that started for Paratriathlon just keeps building around the world. This week, we find out what is happening in Japan.
Jun Hiromichi in Ishigaki 2009
Thanks to strong support from the Japan Triathlon Union, Paratriathlon (or athletes with a disability triathlon as it has been previously known), has attracted some big name Paralympians before. Like in 2009 when two-time 800m wheelchair Paralympic medallist Jun Hiromichi competed in the Paratriathlon event in Ishigaki, helping to bring the spotlight to the sport. The southern island already holds the record of the longest running ITU Triathlon World Cup event, staging one every year since 1996. Now it’s set to create Paratriathlon history, after Hiromichi, two more Paratriathletes competed in 2010 and more are expected in this year’s event.
But it was a TV programme last year that had the most impact on the profile of Paratriathlon in Japan, when blind teenager Sae Tateki completed a 51.5k event in a live documentary. The 17-year old was not a competitive athlete, rather a high school girl next door, but she now has almost 200,000 google hits to her name.
Sae Tateki in Nippon Television’s live documentary
Tateki didn’t go into it unprepared though – she had Japan’s elite triathlete Hayato Kawahara, who competed in the ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships in Lorient in 2007, to help her reach her goal. There were also special regulations on her race, with vocal and sound guidance on the bike leg, to help her complete it. In the end, thousands were so caught up in her story they lined streets for the final few hours of her journey, and it attracted more than ten million TV viewers.
This summer in Yokohama, Paratriathlon will feature at the second round of the Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Series along with world top-ranked triathletes and 2,000 age-group athletes. As the Japanese Triathlon Union is one of the 27 National Federations who have pledged to send their athletes to the 2011 ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in Beijing – it could be a crucial warm-up event for the Japanese contenders. As such, the event in Yokohama could now be considered as a historical stepping stone in Japan’s Paratriathlon movement, taking what is a strong national programme into a force on the international stage.
More than 5,000 fans backed ITU’s bid campaign “Paratriathlon for Paralympics”, and the International Paralympic Committee’s Governing Board accepted Paratriathlon for the Rio 2016 Games last December.