‘Repaying the favour’: Onda wants to prove potential at Tokyo 2020
Surrounded by the best wheelchair fencers in the world, Japan’s Ryuji Onda is unsure how he will react as he competes on the Paralympic piste for the first time at Tokyo 2020.
“Honestly, I cannot tell you now how I will feel when I step foot on the stage but I know this is the biggest stage in the world.”
Having previously sent athletes to the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, Japan return to the Paralympic stage entering a wheelchair fencing squad for the first time since Beijing 2008.
Onda, the men’s sabre category B silver medallist from the 2018 Asian Para Games, features alongside fellow podium finishers Anri Sakurai and Michinobu Fujitsu. He will also be joined by Shintaro Kano, who is also relatively new to the sport and who began fencing in 2015, two years after the announcement that Tokyo would be the next host city.
Onda is aware that his first appearance at the Paralympics, where he is entered in the men’s foil and men’s sabre category B competition, will be important for his development. He sees it as an opportunity to learn more about himself as an athlete. “It has only been six years since I started wheelchair fencing so I find shortcomings in my techniques and strategies every day. However, I know I have potential that I believe in, and I try to fight every match based on my potential, my attitude, and my motivation to learn as much as I can as fast as possible.”
Development is key to Onda and the rest of the Japanese squad as this year’s competition atmosphere is unlikely to be replicated again. A good round of results at Tokyo would not only be meaningful on home soil, but provide strong encouragement in sending a team to Paris 2024.
“I try to enjoy any competition as much as I can because that is the key to success. This is a tournament in my home country which only makes me more determined.”
This determination will be needed if he is to improve on his results from the 2019 International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) Wheelchair Fencing World Championships in Cheongju, South Korea, but Onda believes he knows what was missing: “It is crucial to keep calm so that I can spontaneously react to whatever happens around me.”
Before taking up wheelchair fencing, Onda was a keen volleyball player, and he has not left that behind completely. His command of team sports, and team skills will be useful when he features in the men’s foil team competition. “From my previous volleyball games, I found there are a lot of things I could utilise from my experience to improve my fencing.” Onda explains.
“At first, it does not look like there are many things that volleyball and wheelchair fencing have in common. However, there are several mental skills like how to motivate yourself, how to push yourself to improve, and how to build a team spirit that I find volleyball and wheelchair fencing share.”
A cheering home crowd might have pushed Onda towards medal contention in Tokyo but he may have to rely on their support in spirit at the Makuhari Messe later this month. Tokyo 2020 and the International Paralympic Committee are to decide if spectators will be allowed.
“Covid-19 certainly changed our training environment drastically but in these unusual circumstances I have done everything that I could do. Definitely, I would not have been able to reach this point just by myself. I wish to return my gratitude to these people as much as I can, by my performance in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. I will fight every inch of bouts, believing in me that I can do anything. Lastly, but not in the least, I wish to thank all those who have organised the Games despite tremendous obstacles set by Covid-19.
With all my gratitude in mind, I will try my best in the competition.”
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games open on 24 August. Wheelchair fencing runs from 25-29 August with 16 medals up for grabs across individual and team competition at Makuhari Messe Hall B.
By Bethany Ashley | For IWAS