TAKADA Chiaki aims to break world record long jump at Tokyo 2020

Takada Chiaki of Japan competes in Women's Long Jump - T11 at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. (Photo by Lucas Uebel/Getty Images)
Takada Chiaki of Japan competes in Women's Long Jump - T11 at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. (Photo by Lucas Uebel/Getty Images)

"Being in my thirties, I face the reality of my stamina and spring decreasing year after year. Be that as it may, I will review my technical and other aspects to find ways to run faster, even by a fraction of a second, and jump farther, even by a centimetre."

Amid the coronavirus pandemic that is requiring all of us to curtail our normal activities, there are many athletes who are continuing with their daily training routines ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - many of whom share their thoughts via social media.

Among them is TAKADA Chiaki, a Para athletics athlete who competed in the long jump and 100m sprint race at Rio 2016 in the vision impairment classification T11.

She finished fourth in the long jump at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships and has already been selected for the Games next year. She spoke to Tokyo 2020 about her hopes and expectations ahead of a home Olympics.

Sharing updates on our combined endeavours

My husband, TAKADA Yuji, and I are Para athletes, competing at the Deaflympics and Paralympic Games, respectively. Our hope is to make ourselves better known in Japan and abroad through our increased use of social media.

We started using social media to post our updates in the hope that perhaps we could encourage other people with impairment, and those who need a little push, to embark on a new challenge. We also thought it would be nice to have our own means of communication in addition to sharing our ideas this way.

Given my vision impairment and Yuji’s hearing impairment, we support each other closely, while challenging ourselves to achieve our goals. We have a son who moved up to his sixth year in elementary school in April. To him, there's nothing unusual about his parents having impairment and competing as athletes, just as we think there is nothing different about us compared with other people. That is why we would like to let people know that if they take a brave step forward, there are many things out there that they can choose to do.

Let’s stay strong and overcome this challenge together

In April, when we started to curtail our normal activities and stay at home, we posted a video message accompanied by sign language. This was because our sign language interpreter had said to us “everyone in Japan and the rest of the world is dispirited, but being confined to their homes is giving people the time to ask themselves what they can do for themselves and others,” and went on to ask us, “as an energetic athletic couple, do you have any messages you’d like to share with the world?”

In the video message, we communicated our thoughts using our respective means of communication – verbal and sign language – so that viewers with a vision or audio impairment could understand. Our message essentially conveyed our hopes and encouragement to the people of Japan to stay positive and overcome this challenging situation together.

We received feedback such as, “I was reassured to see the two of you doing well,” and “I’ve realised that it’s not just me that’s having a hard time. I should do what I can now, and when things have settled down, I will work hard to achieve a higher level.”

If we have been able to raise people’s hopes, even slightly, we could not be more delighted.

Trying to find something fun to do

Because athletic fields were shut down due to the COVID-19 state of emergency in Japan, we suddenly had no place to train. My vision impairment, I must say, was making me less adaptable to changes. And because of my impairment, I never train alone.

My constant companion when I’m training is OMORI Shigekazu, who acts as my coach, my caller (a person who guides athletes with a vision impairment by using voice and sounds) and guide runner. The current situation means that we have to find some road spacious enough for the two of us to run. Being a field athletics athlete, I hardly had any experience running on public roads, which added to my nervousness. Even small bumps in the road, which normally would not bother me when walking, made me tense, giving me aches in parts of my body that would otherwise be fine. As such, getting a little exercise outdoors has been no easy task for me.

Nowadays, I do my outdoor training in my neighbourhood. I run about 100 metres at a time, walking in between, taking care not to get injured. I also try to do whatever I can at home, primarily focussing on stretching exercises. As a long jumper, I have always lacked some spine flexibility, so I am exploring ways to make improvements.

Normally, Yuji and I train on different days of the week, so one of us is always able to look after our son. As we are both at home now, all three of us enjoy stretching exercises and training together. At the top of our agenda is finding something fun to do. Before, our son was only able to be with one of us at a time, and missed out on times spent as a full family.

As we are now “three peas” in a pod, we do everything together, from studying to cooking. Our son occasionally points out how rare it is for me to be at home, but he seems to be enjoying our time together.

Tackling challenges one by one toward Tokyo 2020

Even though the state of emergency has now been lifted in Japan, I do not plan on doing anything special. I have constantly given thought to how I should perform to move up to a higher level, and trained accordingly year after year. I will gradually return to my conventional style of training, and make sure that the list of challenges on my agenda is tackled one by one.

Needless to say, my goal is to achieve good results at Tokyo 2020 next year. Although the Games were postponed to 2021, I hope a lot of people will come and cheer me on in person. Being in my thirties, I face the reality of my stamina and spring decreasing year after year. Be that as it may, I will review my technical and other aspects to find ways to run faster, even by a fraction of a second, and jump farther, even by a centimetre.

My goal for this year was to win the gold medal in the long jump by jumping in excess of five metres at Tokyo 2020. I need just one jump to exceed five metres to make a big record in the long jump. Now that I have more time to practise, I would like to focus more on “image training” and work on my techniques to ensure that I can perform at that level.

My personal best in the long jump is 4.69 metres marked in November 2019, but the world record exceeds 5 metres. During the almost eight years since I took up the event, no big jumps in the order of five metres have been achieved at major events such as the Paralympic Games. As I have a tendency to renew my personal best at major competitions, my plan is to bring myself to jump about 4.80 to 4.90 metres on average, and then hopefully gain the gold medal by achieving my goal of five metres.

Long jumper Takada Chiaki has provisionally qualified for Tokyo 2020.  (Photo by Lucas Uebel/Getty Images)
Long jumper Takada Chiaki has provisionally qualified for Tokyo 2020. (Photo by Lucas Uebel/Getty Images)
2016 Getty Images

To achieve better records in the long jump, the entire flow of motions – from running straight ahead accelerating to maximum speed in the approach run, to taking off, getting ready for landing while in the air, and hitting the sand – needs to be well coordinated.

Up until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, I had concentrated solely on the approach run in my training. Subsequently, however, I started receiving advice several times a year from IMURA Kumiko, an Olympian at the Beijing 2008 Games in the women’s long jump, and based on her advice, I have been setting a goal for each year to ultimately achieve a perfect flow of motions within a period of four years. My theme for this year is to long jump by coordinating and synchronising all movements. I am at last about to enter the final wrap-up stage before hopefully achieving perfection.

In addition to being a long jumper, I am also a sprinter, specialising in 100 metres. For years, I have been sprinting under the guidance of my coach. Adhering to my key theme of 'carrying on as always without wavering,' I have been renewing my time every year by fractions of a second.

My goal is to achieve sub-13 seconds next year.

Hoping for smiles on everyone’s faces

It would be wonderful if the postponed Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games could be hosted next year with smiles on everyone’s faces, instead of spectators having concerns about the risk of watching live and the athletes having worries about insufficient training.

I certainly hope that people around the world can come together in sheer excitement and share instances of heartwarming unity between athletes and supporters.