Celebrations for the Japanese women’s goalball team are a distant memory according to head coach Kyoichi Ichikawa, as he begins to look towards choosing the players who will compete at their home Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020.
The team won a much lauded gold at the Asian Para Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, in October 2018. It came after disappointment at the 2018 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) World Championships in Malmo, Sweden.
Japan were hopeful of a Worlds medal after they increased their efforts ahead of Tokyo 2020, but ended in fifth place.
“I am very happy that we won a gold medal at Asian Para Games,” Ichikawa said. “I am grateful for our team's and each athlete’s effort.
“We were not able to compete with the best selected members at the World Championship in Sweden, but we could try them at the Asian Para Games. I believe that is the factor why we won the gold medal.”
Now Ichikawa is looking towards a different kind of competition – between the team members themselves.
“Due to winning the gold medal at the Asian Para Games, I feel that the principles of competition in the national team are increasing. Fierce but wonderful competition between athletes to become a member of the national team for 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games will start.”
Late 2019 will bring another opportunity to test the team. Japan will host the IBSA Goalball Asia/Pacific Championships in Chiba from 2-11 December.
It will be their final big competition ahead of the Paralympics. As the host country, Japan are guaranteed a place at Tokyo 2020 but all the other competing countries will still be trying to qualify. Chiba 2019 is one of the last opportunities to do so.
Despite this, Ichikawa knows exactly what his team need to do to improve to show their best. They are focusing on coordination and offense. Part of this is also building “mental toughness”.
“Not only for myself but also as the Japan Goalball Association, it is a great honour to have the 2019 IBSA Goalball Asia/Pacific Championships in Japan,” Ichikawa said. “We are preparing in cooperation with the administrative agency for a successful competition.
“The aim of the Japanese women’s team is winning a gold medal.”
The 2019 goalball season features regional Championships in Asia/Pacific and Europe, as well as other major qualification opportunities for Tokyo 2020. These include the 2019 IBSA Goalball and Judo International Qualifier and the Lima 2019 Parapan American Games.