Para-Ekiden in Tokyo 2015SMAP, Takarazuka group add their support to 14,000 cheering spectators
The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center (the “Support Center”) held the Para-Ekiden in Tokyo 2015 relay race at Komazawa Olympic Park in Tokyo on November 29. Under a clear autumn sky, 171 athletes, including para-athletes, non-disabled athletes and guides, and grouped into 19 eight-person teams, competed in a roughly 20-kilometer race in front of approximately 14,000 spectators. The popular vocal group SMAP and members of the Takarazuka Review’s Star Troupe added to the festive atmosphere.
The 19 teams came from Tokyo and nearby prefectures, with five teams from Tokyo, three from Kanagawa, two each from Chiba and Saitama, and one each from seven other prefectures. Each team included runners with disabilities, one non-disabled male and one non-disabled female runner, and one male and one female wheelchair racer. The 2.563-kilometer course followed the jogging course around the park, beginning and ending on the athletic field track inside the stadium. Participating para-athletes included Yuichi Takahashi, winner of the gold medal at the men’s marathon for visually impaired athletes at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, and Saki Takakuwa, bronze medalist in the women’s long jump at the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships.
The opening ceremony began at 12:00 at the athletic field, with the athletes entering the stadium preceded by a brass band and cheerleaders from Nippon Sport Science University and led by Eita Yashiro, a former National Diet member and wheelchair user. Support Center Chairman Yasushi Yamawaki welcomed the competitors and spectators, noting that the Support Center has adopted the slogan “i enjoy!” and expressed his hope that everyone – athletes, supporters, and spectators – would enjoy the event.
Next, Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe expressed his hope that the race would raise the profile of the Paralympics. He was followed by Toshiaki Endo, Minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, who noted, “The important thing is that the Olympics and Paralympics succeed as one. Let’s create a society in which people with disabilities and people without disabilities live together.” Adding his remarks, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Hiroshi Hase said, “I promise that Mr. Endo and I will run together at next year’s para-ekiden!”
Ten members of the Takarazuka Review’s Star Troupe then sang Japan’s national anthem, which was followed by three para-athlete representatives pledging to compete fairly and do their best to help their team.
After the athletes filed out of the stadium, the musical group SMAP took the stage. Each of the five members expressed their support for the Paralympics and then participated in demonstrations of wheelchair basketball and blind soccer, which created even more excitement.
The race itself began at 1:00, with former prime minister Yoshiro Mori, President of The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, firing the starting gun. The first stage was run by visually impaired runners and guides, who ran a half-lap around the track, exited to run one lap of the park’s jogging course, and returned to finish the final half-lap of the track. The second stage was run by non-disabled men, followed by women wheelchair racers, then non-disabled women. The fifth stage featured athletes with a physical impairment, followed by intellectually impaired runners, then runners with hearing impairment. The final, anchor stage featured men wheelchair racers. The spectators cheered as each group returned to the stadium to compete for position in their final half-lap around the track.
The awards ceremony began a few minutes after 3:00, with Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of The Nippon Foundation expressing his gratitude: “Today’s event was a huge success, thanks to the hard training and strong performances of the athletes. I am especially grateful for the way the participants showed us that anyone can pursue a dream, even with a disability.” Support Center Chairman Yamawaki presented first place medals to the winning Kanagawa Stars team, and medals were also presented to the members of the second-place Tokyo Smile and third-place Iba Luckies. Super Fight Chiba was awarded The Nippon Foundation Chairman’s Prize.
The afternoon concluded with SMAP returning to the stage to perform three songs, to the crowd’s delight.
The Nippon Foundation