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. 1
Japan’s “Teamwork” Led to Bronze Medal in the 4 × 100m Relay

A Four-Year Challenge from London Bore Fruit

––– What made you start track and field?

Mr. Tagawa discusses his athletic history.

I joined the track and field club when I was in junior high school. However, I was not fast at running, and I was a throw athlete at first. I switched to short-distance running after entering college. I did well in the event for athletes with disabilities and started to enjoy it.

––– Beijing 2008 was the first time you took part in the Paralympic Games.

I was happy when I found out that I qualified for the Games for the first time. However, I have nothing but regrets from Beijing. I lost in preliminary rounds in both the 100m and 200m sprints. Then, in the 4 × 100m relay, I failed at baton pass and our team was disqualified. I, who was the second runner, couldn’t pass the baton to the third runner. I thought, “what did I come here for?”

––– That regret must have become your motivation for London four years later.

Yes. I personally had a change in environment between Beijing and London, from a college student to an office worker. I would work until late most of the time on weekdays, so I only had time to run after coming home. Because I didn’t have much time to train, I sought quality rather than quantity. By focusing on each dash, my time was improved, even though I trained less hours.

––– In London, you were fifth in the 100m and fourth in the 4 × 100m relay, placing high in both individual and team events.

Scene right before the start at London 2012.
At the London 2012
Courtesy of Tomoki Tagawa

I gained confidence after knowing that I could win a medal if I tried a little harder. That is how my desire to win medals in Rio four years later no matter what grew stronger, especially for the relay. I thought about how I should approach the event during those four years to win medals.

Opportunities Don’t Come Unless You Are in a Position to Seize Them

––– Now, it is the time for Rio 2016. Before the Games, did you think you could win a medal?

There were two IPC Athletics World Championships before Rio, in 2013 and 2015, and Japan placed fourth both times. Looking at the athletes from other countries, I thought we would be fourth again this time. But we strongly believed “You never know what will happen. We need to be in a position to seize the opportunity.”

––– Japan finished fourth in the 4 × 100m relay. However, the U.S. team was disqualified after finishing first, so Japan moved up to the third and won a bronze medal. How did you feel when you found out that you won the medal?

Team Japan right after the finish of 4 x 100m relay at Rio 2016.
Scene right after the finish at the Rio Games: (From left) Ashida, Sato, Tagawa, Yamamoto
Courtesy of Tomoki Tagawa

Honestly, I was happy. Even though it was an unexpected piece of good luck, this medal is the result of many challenges for four years after London.

––– Can you tell us specifically what challenges you took on toward the Rio Games?

At first, I was going to be the first runner. However, at the training camp in August, one month before the Rio Games, we thought about how we could improve our chances of winning a medal, and we decided to switch me, the first runner, and Mr. Ashida, the third runner.

––– What changed from being the first runner to the third runner?

When you are the first runner, you just start and pass the baton, so you can concentrate on running. But the third runner has to receive the baton and then pass the baton to the next runner. I have less degree of a disability than the fourth runner, Mr. Yamamoto, so our strategy was that I run as long as possible, stretch out the lead, and pass the baton. I was worried because I had memories of failing at passing the baton in Beijing. However, the last-minute change worked out well.

––– Japan also won a medal in the 4 × 100m relay at the Olympic Games in Rio, and much attention was placed on its baton-passing techniques. Is this Japan’s strong point?

Yes, other countries are like scratch teams in which fast runners are gathered to take part in the relay. The U.S. team, which was disqualified this time, is not very good at passing the baton. Japan is not as fast as other countries, but we’ve kept up thanks to our baton-passing technique. However, in absolute terms, our running ability is lower than other countries, so our next challenge is to improve our individual running abilities.

––– You brought us some memorabilia from Rio today.

Official Jersey that Mr. Tagawa used at Rio 2016

This is the official jersey from the Rio Games that we wore to the awards ceremony and official events.

The edge of the medal is incused the event that Mr. Tagawa participated in.

Since it is the Paralympics, braille is printed on the medal, and the event name is marked on its outside edge. Therefore, there are only four bronze medals in the world for the 4 × 100m relay. It also makes a sound when you shake it for the blind. The tone is different depending on the color of the medal, and the silver medal makes a slightly higher sound than the bronze medal. No one from Japan won a gold medal this time, so we don’t know what the gold medal sounds like...

The artificial arm that Mr. Tagawa uses at the race.

This artificial arm is indispensable to me. My right arm is short, and when I do the crouch start, my shoulder level is not even, so I use this artificial arm to support. It was custom-made, after making a mold and assembling parts. The part where it connects to my arm is made of carbon, and it is lighter than you expect.

––– Has anything changed since you became a “medalist”?

Yes, I have more opportunities to be interviewed and speak in front of others. The Medalists Parade in Ginza stands out in my memory. About 800,000 people came. I think most people came to see the Olympic athletes, but they also said “Congratulations” to the Paralympic athletes and waved to us, so I was very happy.

––– Having experienced that, don’t you get the feeling of, “I want to be here four years later again!!”?

Yes! I was able to win a medal this time in the relay, but I also want a medal in an individual event. In the relay, our goal is to win bronze or a better medal. The higher the individual level is, the higher the team level should be, so I would like to continue training hard toward 2020.