Para-Ekiden in Tokyo 2017

The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center (the “Support Center”) held the Para-Ekiden in Tokyo 2017 relay race at Komazawa Olympic Park in Tokyo on March 12. The ekiden (relay marathon) featured 17 nine-person teams of runners with and without disabilities (including guide runners) from eastern Japan, and was won by Very Good Tochigi from Tochigi Prefecture. Team Yoshimoto, from the popular comic troupe Yoshimoto Kogyo attended as special guests, and the musical group AAA performed for the crowd of more than 11,000 spectators.

Group photo with winning team Very Good Tochigi, Yohei Sasakawa, and Team Yoshimoto

Second Para-Ekiden

The Support Center held its first Para-Ekiden in November 2015, and this was the second time the event was held. In addition to three teams from Tokyo and two from Kanagawa Prefecture, three prefectures that suffered extensive damage from the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami – Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima – each sent a team for the first time. Rounding out the field were one team each from Chiba, Saitama, Ibaraki, Gunma, and Tochigi prefectures in the Kanto region, and from Nagano, Niigata, Yamanashi, and Shizuoka prefectures. Each team included runners with and without disabilities, and one male and one female wheelchair racer. The race consisted of eight laps around a roughly 2.5-kilometer course, for a total distance of approximately 20.5 kilometers.

The opening ceremony began slightly past noon in the track stadium, with 15 members of Yoshimoto Kogyo singing “Ashita ga aru sa” (“There's always tomorrow”) as 153 athletes entered the stadium. Eita Yashiro, a former National Diet member who acted as master of ceremonies, introduced Support Center Chairman Yasushi Yamawaki, who welcomed the spectators and expressed his hope that sports would provide a way for people to enjoy their lives and be active in society. He was followed by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who said, “The Tokyo Olympics will not be a success if the Tokyo Paralympics are not a success.” She also noted that preparations for 2020 are in full swing, including the removal of barriers to make Tokyo a city that can accommodate everyone.

Paralympic Support Center Chairman Yasushi Yamawaki (left) and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike (right)

Hirokazu Matsuno, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and Tamayo Marukawa, Minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, also addressed the athletes and spectators.

Minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games Tamayo Marukawa (left), Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Hirokazu Matsuno (right)

First leg features visually impaired runners

Next, Koshi Kishita, a singer-songwriter who is blind, sang the national anthem and five participating athletes took the athletes’ pledge on behalf of all the participants. The first group of 17 runners, who were visually impaired, and guide runners then lined up at the starting line, and Governor Koike started the race.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike starts the race

The second leg featured runners with impaired hearing, and male wheelchair racers competed in the third leg. They were urged on from trackside by Team Yoshimoto and the members of AAA.

Master of ceremonies Eita Yashiro (right) interviews wheelchair racer Yoshiteru Hoshi (left), the oldest athlete competing in the Para-Ekiden, after completing his lap.

Very Good Tochigi pulls ahead in the 5th leg

Very Good Tochigi won the event with a time of 1 hour, 21 minutes, and 47 seconds. This team placed 10th at the first Para-Ekiden, but all but one of the current members have joined the team since then. With a smile, coach Takashi Hattori commented, “We were aiming to finish near the top. The Tokyo WakuWaku Enjoy team got off to a strong start, but we were able to overtake them in the fifth leg. I hope this will trigger interest in the Paralympics among the people of Tochigi.” Tokyo WakuWaku Enjoy finished second, with a time of 1:24:12, and the Niigata Comets came in third at 1:28:55.

Second-place team Tokyo WakuWaku Enjoy (left) and third-place finishers Niigata Comets (right)

At the awards ceremony, The Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa (who is also a Special Advisor to the Support Center) said, “Watching these athletes compete so intensely was very moving. I can’t imagine how much strength the crowd’s enthusiastic support must have given them,” and added “I look forward to seeing everyone here again next year.” Mr. Yamawaki presented the championship trophy to Very Good Tochigi, who also received the Governor’s Prize, and Mr. Sasakawa presented 13th-place finishers Team Miyagi with The Nippon Foundation Chairman’s Prize. All members of the top three finishing teams were also presented with medals.

AAA perform for the event’s finale

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