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Paralympics

Blind Para Swimming Ace Keiichi Kimura Gets Ready for Gold at Tokyo Paralympics

At 18, Kimura competed in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. He then won a total of six medals in 2012 and 2016, but not a gold among them.

Ayari Nishizawa

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PARALYMPICS - Keiichi Kimura, Japan's blind Para Swimming ace.

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Blind para swimming ace Keiichi Kimura, champion of the men’s 100-meter butterfly at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships, will be competing for Japan at the Tokyo Paralympics for the fourth time. Swimming events will be held over 10 days.

From May 21 to 23, Keiichi Kimura competed in the Japan Para Swimming Championships to prepare for the Tokyo Paralympics three months away.

Keiichi Kimura

“It helped me understand my current condition,” said Kimura, reflecting on his results and areas for improvement with satisfaction.

Kimura is an all-around swimmer with world-class speed in butterfly, breaststroke, freestyle, and individual medley, and is a mere 0.05 seconds away from the current world record of 1:01.12 in the 100-meter butterfly, his forte. But the more events he competes in, the greater the burden will be on his body and mind. 

In February, six months before the start of the Paralympics, Kimura shared his thoughts with the Sankei Shimbun: “It’s hard to give up a race when you think you have a chance of winning a medal. That’s why I want to simulate the races of the Games using a similar schedule. I’m curious to see what my body can handle at the age of 30, and if it’s too much, I’ll consider narrowing down my races.”

Keiichi Kimura in the 100-meter breaststroke competition.

Kimura competed in the 100-meter breaststroke, 100-meter freestyle, and 100-meter butterfly during the three-day Japan Para Swimming Championships. Seven days before the championships, Kimura began time trials for the 200-meter individual medley and the 50-meter freestyle at the training pool. On the second day of the championships, he marked a personal best of 59.10 seconds in the 100-meter freestyle and was “extremely satisfied” with his performance.

However, he underperformed in the 100-meter butterfly final, clocking in at 1:02.95. The event was held on the last day of the championships and was Kimura’s 10th race, including his time trials. The 100-meter butterfly final at the Paralympics will likewise be held on the last day of the swimming events. 

“I can’t win like this. Maybe I was too tired,” Kimura said, biting his lip in frustration.

For Kimura, the main takeaway from these simulated races in preparation for the Paralympics was seeing his weaknesses come to light. While he hints at the possibility of narrowing down his number of races, it was clear that he was “steadily becoming stronger.”

Keiichi Kimura, para swimming athlete.

When Kimura was 2 years old, he lost his eyesight due to a congenital disease. Because he had always loved moving his body, he was constantly injuring himself by bumping into things and falling over. When Kimura was in fourth grade, his mother Masami took him to a swimming school where he would be safe from injury no matter how vigorous he was. He became completely absorbed in the sport and mastered the four swimming strokes by competing with his friends. 

At age 18, Kimura competed in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, his first Paralympics. He then won a total of six medals at the 2012 London Paralympics and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics, but there was no gold medal among them. 

Kimura is pinning his entire athletic life on the Tokyo Paralympics. But physical conditioning can be extremely difficult under the coronavirus pandemic for the visually impaired, as conversation and touch are crucial sources of information for the athlete. However, Kimura has chosen to look at the situation in a positive light, saying, “[Infection control measures have] worked to improve our performance and maintain our physical condition.”

Keiichi Kimura

Kimura expressed his strong desire for the Games in a previous interview, when the decision had not yet been made whether to hold or cancel the Games.

“I know that holding the Games could spread the disease further,” he said. “But the athletes need to have a strong desire for the Olympics because nobody else will have a stronger desire. I believe in holding the Olympics.”

He continued then, “Our efforts [individually and collectively against the coronavirus] towards holding the Olympics will lead to our efforts to restore society.”

The para swimming ace will never give up, set on the one thing he has yet to attain: a Paralympic gold medal. 

(Read The Sankei Shimbun report in Japanese at this link.)

 Author: Ayari (Aoyama) Nishizawa, Sankei Shimbun Sports Department 

Ayari (Aoyama) Nishizawa is a staff writer for the Sankei Shimbun sports department. She is also an Olympic athlete who represented Japan in the sport of swimming (butterfly) at the Atlanta Olympics.