Athlete Interview

Rio Paralympics Athletics Bronze Medalist
Mr. Tomoki Tagawa

Mr. Tomoki Tagawa, who won a bronze medal at Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Tomoki Tagawa

DOB: February 6, 1986
Hometown: Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture
Impairment: Limb (Right arm) deficiency

Career Highlights

  • London 2012 Paralympic Games
    5th place - 100m sprint, 4th place - 4×100m relay
  • Incheon 2014 Asian Para Games
    Bronze - 100m sprint, 200m sprint, Gold - 4×400m relay
  • Rio 2016 Paralympic Games
    Bronze - 4×100m relay

Vol. 2
Expectations and Challenges for 2020: Thoughts after Interaction with Volunteers

Meeting a Japanese Volunteer in London

––– Mr. Tagawa, you’ve taken part in three Paralympic Games so far, but were there any exchanges with volunteers that left an impression on you?

Mr. Tagawa talks about the volunteer who helped him at London 2012.

In London, there were cafés and open spaces in the Olympic Village, and there was a Japanese female volunteer. She and her family were living in London and applied to become a volunteer because the Games were held there. I had to live away from home for about a month during the Games. Therefore, I was able to feel very relaxed speaking with her in Japanese, even if it was just a casual conversation. We have kept in touch even after the Games, and when we visited London for an overseas tour, she shows us around the city.

––– Is there any difference in support by volunteers between the Olympics and Paralympics?

There is basically no difference. Many athletes for the Paralympics can do everything by themselves. If they need assistance, they have to bring in their own staff with them. For example, a visually impaired athlete would not be sent to the Games alone to be taken care of by local volunteers.

––– The Tokyo 2020 will also need many volunteers. What do you seek in volunteers?

Mr. Tagawa discusses the volunteers for Tokyo 2020.

Japan is fully prepared to welcome visitors in regards to tangible aspects, such as equipment and facilities. In Japan, there is little stress you may feel in other countries, for example, hot water not running well in a shower or the toilet becoming clogged. Non-tangible aspects, in other words, the “people,” are more important.

––– What do you think will be the challenge for 2020?

In other countries, whenever a visually impaired person or a person who has disability in his/her legs comes on a train, people immediately take notice of them and try to offer their seats. However, I think people in Japan are low in their level of awareness for them. I am not saying Japanese people are mean, but they just don’t know what to do.

––– There may be visitors to Japan for the Tokyo 2020 Games who need some kind of support.

For that reason, it would be a shame if people came from abroad and thought “Japan is a country that is not friendly to people with disabilities.” I’d like people from abroad to feel “Omotenashi,” which is a positive side of the Japanese. Also, I’d like the Japanese people to deepen their knowledge of people with disabilities.

Advice to Those Who Would Like to Take Part as Volunteers

––– There are “Games Volunteers” who support games operations at the venues and Olympic Village, and “City Volunteers” who support visitors at airports, major train terminals, and sightseeing spots. The volunteers you have mostly interacted with were probably Games Volunteers, but did you have any exchanges with City Volunteers in the city?

In Rio, I didn’t go out much. But in London, there was a train station right next to the Olympic Village, and I remember that there were people wearing volunteer uniforms.

––– What should people who want to take part in the Tokyo 2020 as a volunteer do to prepare?

I myself am not very good at this, but perhaps language skills. There are things that can be understood using gestures, but words are important to communicate well.

––– Is that something you felt when you participated in the Paralympics because you only speak in Japanese?

Yes. Even if I want someone to do something, I cannot explain it well. Also they do not understand what I mean. If you can communicate well, then you will have a higher value as a volunteer. I appreciate a Japanese volunteer communicating in Japanese at London 2012.

––– Please tell us about your goals for the future.

Mr. Tagawa talks about his future goals.

Para sports have finally become featured in the media, but there is still not enough recognition. I would like to do my best so that more people are interest in them. When I gave a talk at an elementary school, I heard that some students changed their view of the student with a disabled hand and that he blended in well with others. I would like to spread the following messages: “You can be active even if you are disabled” and “You can challenge yourself to play sports.”

––– The year 2020 will be a big opportunity for Para sports.

Interest in Para sports is still limited to the thinking of “people with disabilities playing as hard as they can.” Don’t get me wrong, but that is because Para sports are still in a developing stage. What if a Para athlete ran the 100m sprint with the same time as an Olympic athlete? Everyone would want to go see the event, and the media wouldn’t just report it as “a person with disabilities playing hard.” We Para athletes play as hard as we can to improve the level of our skills, and want many people to watch our performance as sports, this is my big dream!