Niigata is home to 9 bright Olympic and Paralympic Athletes trying for the gold in the Tokyo Olympics beginning this weekend. They will be representing our second-hometown on the court, track, water, field and even in the air over then next few weeks.
Niigata Olympic Athletes
Hirano Ayumu, from Murakami, is a familiar name to snowboarders and fans of the winter Olympics alike. The two time snowboard half-pipe silver medalist will become the 5th Japanese person in history to make an appearance in both the summer and winter games as he competes in the skateboarding park-style competition. Having grown up learning snowboarding on Niigata’s slopes and skateboarding at the Murakami Skatepark, he said that participating in skateboarding’s debut in his home country was something that he “just couldn’t let go”. No Japanese athlete has ever medaled in both summer and winter Olympics. Will Hirano be able to change that on Thursday, August 5th?
Hattori Yuma is a track and field athlete from Tokamachi. He won the Fukuoka Marathon with a time of 2:07:27 and is hoping to beat that time in his first Olympic Marathon race in Hokkaido on August 8th.
Togashi Yuki‘s home town is Shibata, Niigata. A basketball fan from a young age, he moved to Maryland, USA in 2009 to play high school basketball for three years. He is currently the point guard for the Chiba Jets in Japan’s B-League. And will continue to fill that role representing Japan as they hope to get out of a tough group C. Togashi will take to the court with the rest of the Japanese men’s basketball team in their game against Spain on July 26th at 21:00.
Playing wing for the “Sakura Sevens” women’s rugby team, Hara Wakaba hails from Niigata City. The Keio University graduate has already completed 6 international caps, but is looking forward to her first Olympic games. In a recent interview with the Japan Times, Hara stated “I feel blessed that the games are going ahead”. Though at that time she still hoped that fans would be in the stands to cheer her on. You can still cheer her on from your TV set as the ladies take on Australia in their opener on Thursday, July 29th.
Tomizawa Makoto, a Kashiwazaki native, will be continuing his hunt for a spot on the podium in his fourth consecutive Olympics. Tomizawa represented Japan in the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Olympics in windsurfing. Though the Olympic podiums have evaded him, he became the first Japanese sailor to medal in the RS:X class at a World Cup event when he placed third in Miami, FL back in 2014. He is hoping that a new coach will give him the competitive advantage he needs in his fourth Olympic games. The first windsurfing race will take place off the coast of Enoshima on Sunday, July 25th.
Niigata Paralympic Athletes
Higuchi Masayuki from Tokamachi will be competing in his third Paralympic Games in the 5000m wheelchair race. Higuchi took up the sport of wheelchair racing a year after obtaining a severe spinal cord injury from a motorcycle accident. Fellow Paralympic athlete Sanshichi Hirasawa talked him into joining the sport as a form of rehabilitation. In an interview following a qualifying race for the Rio Paralympics, Higuchi stated that he wants “to show the sport which is faster than running on legs”.
You can cheer on both Higuchi and fellow Niigata native Natata Tsutomu, who will be competing in the Marathon, during the Tokyo Paralympic games scheduled from August 24t to September 5th.
Joetsu native Ishiura Tomomi missed out on qualifying for the Rio Paralympics by 0.3 seconds, but was able to earn herself a position at the age of 33 on the Japanese woman’s Paralympic swimming team for the Tokyo games.
Though suffering from congenital glaucoma, Ishiura has been swimming since the age of 2. She recently underwent surgery to reduce the intraocular pressure that was causing her the huge disadvantage of not being able to start on the dive platform. The surgery posed major risks for her as there was a chance that she could lose even the slight sensitivity to light that she had. But the surgery was successful and Ishiura returned even stronger than ever, finishing 5th in the 2019 World Championship and is aiming for gold in the 50m freestyle next month.
Fellow Niigata native Yamada Miyuki will also be competing in her first Olympic games in the 50m and 100m backstroke.
Whether you’re cheering for your home country or for your Niigata neighbors, we hope you can celebrate the unity and solidarity that is inherent to the Olympic games. To make sure you don’t miss any Olympic moments, be sure to can check the full schedule of events.
Written by: Kimberly Fitzgerald