Para athlete interview –Hajime Ujiro

20 Questions & Answers

What is your name?
Hajime Ujiro.
Which part of Japan are you from?
I am from Awaji Island in Hyogo Prefecture.
What is your sport?
I am a Para powerlifter.
At which Paralympic Games did you first compete?
At the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games.
What weight did you lift at those Games?
I lifted 147.5 kg in the men's 67.5 kg class, and finished in eighth place.
Which Games have left the deepest impression on you so far?
The London 2012 Paralympic Games.
What is your best performance to date?
Lifting 188 kg in the men's 75 kg class.
When did you first take up powerlifting?
I first took it up 18 years ago.
What made you first take up powerlifting?
I saw an article about Para athletes in a magazine after I had started using a wheelchair.
Is there anything that you always do you before a competition?
I envisage my lift, make my face red, and screw up my shoulder blade just as I would when I am lifting.
What do you think about at the moment you are lifting?
I think about lifting the weight just as I envisage it.
Could you describe the attraction of powerlifting in a word or two?
I think it's a sport in which you can really demonstrate or express your emotions.
Do you have any other special skills apart from powerlifting?
Well, I guess I'm pretty strong.
What kind of meal do you have before a competition?
I always have a balanced meal.
Could you sum up your image of Tokyo in a word or two?
Tokyo is a place where dreams come true.
What is your favourite word?
“Equality”
What is your least favourite word?
“Condescending”
Could you sum yourself up in a word or two?
I'm a real pain in the neck.
What are your expectations for the Tokyo 2020 Games?
My hope is that everyone will go home happy and satisfied having enjoyed the Games and achieved their goals.
What will you be doing in 2020?
I hope to be competing in the Paralympic Games.
Hajime Ujiro (Para Athletics) Hajime Ujiro (Para Athletics)

Interview

For those who are unfamiliar with Paralympic sports, what do you think is interesting about Para athletes and Para powerlifting, and what would you recommend they look out for during the Paralympic Games?

In Paralympic sport, athletes are categorised based on their impairment, so all athletes compete on an even level.
In contrast to a track race where multiple runners compete at the same time and spectators naturally focus on the runner in the lead, Para powerlifting is interesting because it is an individual competition sport where the spotlight falls on each athlete as they make their respective attempts.
As a point for spectators to look out for, there is a lot of time for observing the athletes' expressions and emotions as they take the stage, make their attempts, and then step down. You can see them mentally prepare themselves as they get ready for their attempt, as well as their expressions of joy or disappointment as they succeed or fail. This human drama can be very captivating.

Judging for Para powerlifting is very strict. Athletes have to lift the weights up to their chest in the precise position and hold it there, then lift the weights up level without any leaning. Because of these detailed rules, many attempts are judged as failures, and you can see the mounting pressure on the athletes' faces when they have no room left for error. The audience can take in the multi-faceted drama of the competition as it unfolds, with rivals vying to beat each other's attempt.

Is there anyone you would consider a rival? Also, how do rivals influence an athlete's motivation during the competition?

I skipped one Paralympic Games, participating in the Athens 2004 Games and then in the London 2012 Games. At the London 2012 Games, I came in seventh place, falling just 3 kilograms behind an athlete from Greece, who finished in sixth place. Then, at the Rio 2016 Games, we both lifted the same weight of 186 kilograms; but since he weighed less than I did, he advanced to the next stage of the competition, while I did not.
In that sense, you could say he is my rival.
Recently in Japan there are more opportunities to develop the sport of powerlifting, so the new generation of young athletes in training now could soon become my rivals. It would be exciting to compete against them and see if I win or lose.

You had mentioned that the performance of your rivals plays a large role during the competition. Do you think strategy or tactics also come into play?

I think the most important aspect of this sport is to be able to calmly analyse yourself. You have to be able to fully recognise your own condition on the day of the competition, and understand how much you will be able to lift, to the kilogram. I think without that sense, you cannot compete.
Certainly, a degree of strategy and tactics is important in the competition. For example, if, as I explained just now, I knew I could only lift 185 kilograms today, I could apply for an attempt at 190 kilograms to throw off my rival. However, if you worry only about your rivals, you could be overcome by lower-ranked competitors, so you need to look at the big picture.

During your day-to-day training, you don't always perform your best. How do you keep yourself motivated?

My coach designs my daily training plan, and some days it's so overwhelming and I can't pull it together. But there's always a new goal to strive for, so I try to refocus and set myself towards achieving those goals. I also think in order to improve, it is important to devise your own plan. In my training I adjust the intervals, weights and speed and add up the data so I can analyse myself to understand my condition.

Don't you ever feel any pressure?

I guess I'm good at focusing on one thing at a time. Once I performed poorly at a major European championship, but the experience made me mentally stronger, and so I wasn't nervous when I competed in the Paralympic Games. While it's a lot to say of oneself, I think I am mentally one of the strongest competitors out there.

Can you tell us how you are preparing or training for the Tokyo 2020 Games?

My coach does not live in Japan, but he comes once every three months to work with me. In this situation, I can't receive direct guidance all the time, so the ability to correct myself becomes a very important factor for my preparation.
It's less than three years until the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, but I try not to dwell on that while I focus on training for other competitions that will take place before then.
While it won't be easy, I think I can improve my current personal best by 10 kilograms, which will really change my standing. The key to this is to improve by one or two kilograms at a time through my daily training.

You have participated in the Paralympic Games in Athens and London, as well as in numerous other international competitions. I'm sure you've had some interesting experiences outside of the competition, such as the food you've had and how you got around. What do you hope the Tokyo 2020 Games will offer?

I think it would be great if the organisers can provide an environment that offers good transportation options and food service.
In terms of transportation, once we were lucky enough to have accommodations in the same building where the competition was held! While a tall order for the Paralympic Games, being able to access the competition venues within 30 minutes from the accommodation venue makes it much easier for athletes.
In terms of food, organisers of major competitions often serve local food of the host country. I'm not expecting any special favours, but I hope there'll be a lot of food that Japanese people like at the Tokyo 2020 Games.

While I don't think it's a big issue in Japan, I have a request regarding toilet facilities. Apart from the obvious need for cleanliness, sometimes in foreign countries the toilet seats are much higher than they are in Japan, making them difficult to use. The facilities do not have to be designed solely for Japanese users, but it would be nice if the facilities are created with all kinds of users in mind.

In terms of sports operation, the warmup space at the London 2012 Games was much better compared to previous competitions, and warmup platforms were available in greater numbers. Even at international competitions, sometimes there aren't enough platforms for warming up, and athletes have to take turns. In powerlifting, each athlete is assigned a warmup time, and athletes are expected to take turns. There were times when athletes from some countries showed bad manners, and would not move down from the warmup platform when their time was up. It can be a large source of stress when we have to compete outside of the competition, so I would like this issue to be addressed.

Para powerlifting

Hajime Ujiro (Para Athletics) Hajime Ujiro (Para Athletics)