By Alison Thompson | For IBSA
The Japanese women’s goalball team are hungrier than ever before with one year to go until the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
The 2019 International Blind Sports Association (IBSA) Goalball Asia Pacific Championships in Chiba delivered them a win on home soil – a taste of the success they believe they can achieve again next year.
At the centre of the win was Haruka Wakasugi who is celebrating a decade on the Japanese team. Her record includes gold at the London 2012 Paralympics where she was the youngest member of the team.
“Winning the gold medal match in Chiba was a good opportunity to show our sport to a home crowd and it was uplifting to hear them cheering for us, which made us really happy as a team. Our success though, is just one step in preparation for winning a gold in Tokyo,” said the 25-year-old Rikkyo University Student.
Wakasugi and her team like so many others this year are now adapting to make sure they are at their best come next summer.
“Our training is going well and we had already started to work towards our goal of winning gold before the announcement [that Tokyo 2020 was postponed]. Personally, I will take the extra time to improve my speciality and my mind. As a team, we want to have an even stronger connection with each other.”
Developing Fibrous Dysplasia at 13-years-old which led to her losing her vision, Wakasugi was introduced to the sport by a teacher at the school she attended for blind children. She started playing two years later. “What I loved about goalball is that everybody on the court is in the same situation,” she said.
With her ten years in the sport, success in Chiba as well as a Paralympic gold medal under her belt, Wakasugi is by no means complacent about her success. “Although we won in Chiba, I wasn’t totally satisfied with my performance”.
This is despite netting 10 goals to finish as Japan’s top scorer: “I strive to be the top scorer in the world.”
The women’s team have had mixed success since the distant days of 2012. They claimed bronze at the 2014 World Championships but finished fifth in 2018. Another Paralympic podium also eluded them at Rio 2016. In contrast at the regional level they are unbeaten over three editions since 2015, beating China in every final for gold.
Naturally Japan are throwing everything at winning a medal in Tokyo, particularly against their old rivals.
“At the Paralympic games, the match against China will be the most important and one we look forward to. I love playing against China because we almost have the same power balance,” Wakasugi said.
However despite the history and previous close match results, Wakasugi does not see them as her team’s biggest opponents next year.
“I think Turkey will be our strongest competition. But, in our team, every player has a strong point and we are motivated by each other. And I like to imagine winning because of the speciality we have.”
With her experience and knowledge of the sport, Wakasugi is keen to encourage others to get involved. “Through watching our goalball games, I want people to feel that anyone can play sports if you have a disability or not,” she said proudly.
With Tokyo 2020 a year away once again, Wakasugi is clearly focused on the task ahead but is aware of the importance of living a balanced life and maintaining those ambitions:
“I’m still working towards my career highlight and am looking forward to Tokyo. But for now, whatever I do playing goalball or taking rest, it’s also important that I keep a balance between work and play so I can be the best I can be.”
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games take place from 24 August – 5 September 2021. Goalball will get underway on 25 August and run every day until the medal matches on 3 September. All games will be staged at Makuhari Messe Hall C.