KAWAMOTO Shota pedals beyond limits in pursuit of Paralympic glory

Para cyclist KAWAMOTO Shota hopes to win an Olympic medal on home soil
Para cyclist KAWAMOTO Shota hopes to win an Olympic medal on home soil

The dual track and road cyclist is hoping to win gold at a home Games for everyone who has supported him on his journey

KAWAMOTO Shota is a Para cyclist, who is ranked world no 4 in the Men Elite C2 Track Para Ranking (as of December 2020).

The medal favourite at the upcoming Paralympic Games spoke with Tokyo 2020 to find out what sparked his fascination with cycling road and how he got hooked on the sport.

Speed and cornering - the cool essence of cycling

Para cycling is held in two events: road, in which cyclists race on a road course; and track, where cyclist compete in a velodrome, a special indoor arena with steeply banked oval tracks. Road riders race at speeds above 45km/h, while track cyclists, who race indoors, can go as fast as 50 to 60km/h.

“High speed is what makes cycling fun. Even cyclists with one leg can at times outpace all others in the individual time trial event. Also, the view of several dozens of road cyclists racing downhill, turning corners at high speed in sync, is breathtakingly powerful. I think cycling is a cool sport,” Kawamoto said.

Track cyclists can go as fast as 50 to 60km/h
Track cyclists can go as fast as 50 to 60km/h
(c) JPCF

Cycling since pre-school

Kawamoto first rode a bicycle in pre-school. With the help of his parents and neighbours, he started practising riding his new bike which he had asked his parents to buy for him. His left leg had been amputated due to an illness when he was two-months old, so he pedalled with only his right leg.

Through untiring cycles of trial and error, such as tying his foot to the pedal with a string, he learnt how to ride with one leg.

“As I got older, I became capable of pedalling without a string tied to my foot. Because it was rather difficult to walk with one leg, I used to go to school or play with my friends on a normal bike. I would sit on the bike and 'walk' by using it like a kickboard. I was always with my bike.”

Switching from baseball to Para Cycling

Kawamoto had always been with a bike since he was very young, but did not take up cycling as a sport right away. At Hiroshima Prefectural Joge High School, he joined the baseball club and ran around the baseball field on a crutch.

After a while, he decided to have a prosthetic leg made, which led him to meet a member of the Japan Dream Baseball League, a league for players with physical impairments. It was an encounter that prompted Kawamoto to join the League during his second year of high-school, becoming a prominent player and being selected to join Japan’s national team.

It was also around this time that he discovered Para cycling.

“A senior member of the Japan Dream Baseball League told me about Para cycling, which aroused my curiosity for the sport,” he said.

When he tried riding a racing bike for the first time, he was impressed by the vast array of mechanic functions it offered. He was also encouraged by KENJO Taishi, the head coach of Japan’s Para cycling national team, to try out the sport. He subsequently switched from baseball to cycling at the age of 19, a year before the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Kawamoto finished eighth at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, just eight months after taking up cycling
Kawamoto finished eighth at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, just eight months after taking up cycling
Tokyo 2020 / Shugo TAKEMI

Securing Rio 2016 ticket for Para Cycling Track

His long-standing experience with common city bicycles was not enough to be a Para cyclist. Having to handle a racing bike, the mere act of “riding” was initially laborious, even for 10 minutes. So, his first target was to get used to riding a race bike.

“To familiarise myself with a racing bicycle, I tried to ride it as long a time as I could, run with it, and conduct training on it. I persistently repeated this,” he explained.

But with his innate athletic ability, he was able to great strides and only six months after he qualified for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Then, with only eight months of racing experience, he finished eighth place in the C2 3,000m individual pursuit.

However, at Rio 2016 he identified a few issues he needed to work on. Now with a few months until Tokyo 2020, he is now bent on improving his cycling form and shave off his cycling time.

New ways of training

Kawamoto has begun working to strengthen the left side of his body. Instead of depending solely on his right leg, he wants to make the best of what remains of his left leg so that he can obtain more stability.

“I wondered what would happen if I could reinforce my left side, even though I don’t have my left leg. I thought my body might become better suited to cycling if I could gain a better balance that way,” he explained.

The Para cyclist is trying to devise his own new ways of training, as well as to incorporate training ideas from other cyclists.

“I try all sorts of things, including riding long distances, trying to maintain a good posture, pursuing the ultimate cornering skills, and working on my muscles. If I could coordinate all elements in a fine-tuned manner, I should be able to race well. After five years in the sport, my core strength has improved and my form is becoming more stable. I can now avail myself of a broader selection of techniques,” Kawamoto said proudly.

Training can be gruelling at times, but that’s why it brings him a sense of fulfilment and achievement when he manages to follow through to the end.

“At times, training can be tough and exhausting, but it’s fun to get together with my compatriots to support each other and to share how tough it was afterwards. Maybe I got hooked on the sport because it’s fun to work hard along with my friends,” he said.

Winning a gold medal at Tokyo 2020

Kawamoto is best at the track event, where he exerts all his strength to pedal at top speed in the hope of shaving off another tenth of a second. However, he also bravely takes on the road event, pushing beyond his limits with mental tenacity.

“Whether in the track or road event, I feel great when I finish high up, become no. 1, or record a good time. I hear that the road course at Tokyo 2020 has quite a few ascents, so the result is unpredictable. Anyone other than the usual powerhouses may finish among the top riders. The course requires technique, so that’s also something to look forward to for the spectators.”

Kawamoto hopes to win a gold medal at Tokyo 2020 for the sake of everyone who has supported him.

“When I rode a bicycle for the first time in my life, I fell, but my parents let me keep riding. If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am now, so I’m truly grateful to them. Also, if I hadn’t been to Joge High School, I wouldn’t have started baseball, which means I wouldn’t have encountered cycling."

"In retrospect, it’s the result of many coincidences that has brought me thus far. I am grateful to everyone I’ve ever been engaged with, such as Mr. Kenjo, Japan Para Cycling team manager, who tried hard to foster me even though I couldn’t produce results. I hope to build on my experience at Rio 2016, and give my all without regret at Tokyo 2020 on home soil.

"I’d like to show the people of Japan how hard I’m trying.”

Cycling has expanded Kawamoto’s potential. In the same way, he believes that if people take a step forward, they will be able to encounter a sport that will change their lives.

“In Para cycling, there are also tandem bicycles for two riders, tricycles, and hand cycles, in addition to bicycles, which I ride. There are also many Para sports other than cycling. If any of them interest you, have a try. I’m sure you will have great fun.”

Kawamoto promises to win a gold medal in Tokyo 2020
Kawamoto promises to win a gold medal in Tokyo 2020
(c) JPCF
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