Takahashi's comments broadcast on NHK TV 9/18/08
translated and edited by Brett Larner
Yuichi Takahashi, 43, originally of Yokote, Akita Prefecture, ran the Beijing Paralympics men's marathon on Sept. 17. Takahashi, the gold medalist in the T11 blind division at the Athens Paralympics, was seeking to win his second straight gold medal and had trained to run a world record 2:30 pace. After running 1:15 for the first half of the Beijing marathon he experienced difficulties and began to slow. Takahashi finished in 2:43:38, faster than his Athens winning time of 2:44:24. He was 2nd in the T11 completely blind division behind Italian Andrea Cionna's 2:36:43 but did not receive a silver medal. While in past Paralympics the T11 class has been scored separately from the T12 visually impaired division, the Beijing Paralympics chose to combine the two classes in the scoring for medals, forcing Cionna, Takahashi and other blind athletes to compete against those who have partial sight. Cionna was 7th overall, while Takahashi finished 16th. Japan's Masahito Niino was the 3rd T11 division runner to finish, 19th overall in 2:51:14.
In interviews after the race Takahashi was vehement that he would be back for the London Paralympics and spoke out against the combination of the T11 and T12 classes. "I'll work as hard as I can for the next four years and will be back for London," Takahashi told NHK reporters. Asked if he had begun to think about what else he will do now that Beijing is over, Takahashi took the opportunity to speak his mind.
"Yes, I have begun to think about it. The reason I couldn't finish in the medals here was that they combined the blind and visually impaired categories. Scoring us against sighted people is complete nonsense.* I want to say to London that they have to restore separate divisions so that we have a fair chance to take medals home too. If they had kept it that way here I would have had a silver medal. There are a lot of athletes including defending medalists in these Games who were denied medals only because of the combination of their classes [with those of more able-bodied competitors]. I hope everyone out there will appeal to the IPC [International Paralympic Committee] to bring back the wider range of disability categories that have been in place up until now.
I remember how it felt to win a gold medal, and wanting to experience that again kept me going through these four years. When I found out that the two classes would be combined I thought, 'There's no way I can do it,' but I made changes to my training and did what I thought I had to to be competitive. Coach Kawashima really helped me, and I'm satisfied that we ran the time we did. I want to say thanks to everyone who supported me, to all the people cheering here in Beijing, to the fifty people who came with me from Japan, and to everyone watching and cheering me on back home. Thank you so much. Next time the Rising Sun will fly from the center pole."
Seated on the opposite side of the interviewer, Japanese Paralympic Team Director Harumi Okubo laughed when Takahashi called the scoring at the Beijing Paralympics 'nonsense.' Replying to Takahashi's comments after he left the interview, Okubo was dismissive, saying, "Well, clearly the categorization of handicapped athletes is a major problem. There is a lot of research going into these decisions and the category boundaries have to go somewhere. The large number of events in both the Paralympics and Olympics is also a problem. Somebody has to draw the line."
For Takahashi's supporters back in Japan, his performance was more than enough. Yokote Mayor Chuetsu Igarashi told reporters, "All the citizens of Yokote take great inspiration from Takahashi's running and hope he continues." Farmer Takaki Tsuchida, 56, head of the official Yuichi Takahashi Booster Club, said, "We look forward to welcoming him warmly when he gets back and to hearing about the race from him firsthand. We'll keep supporting him as long as he keeps running." Yukinori Otomo, 34, race director of the Michinoku Akita Charity Run and Walk which invites Takahashi as a guest runner every year commented, "He ran well in a major event and his time wasn't bad. Next time he's in Yokote I'd like to shake his hand."
*Translator's note: Takahashi used the English word 'nonsense' in his comments.