translated by Brett Larner
The 2008 Beijing Paralympics take place in Beijing, China from Sept. 9 through 17. Competing for his second consecutive gold medal in the final day's men's marathon is Yuichi Takahashi, 43. His guide runner in Beijing will be Sydney Olympics men's marathon competitor and Toyo University head track and field coach Shinji Kawashima, 42. Motivated by Takahashi's passion, it is an Olympic rebirth for Kawashima. "In Beijing if I can recover what I lost in Sydney then maybe the Rising Sun will be raised high on the center pole." The two runners share and Olympic dream of a gold medal.
Takahashi was stricken with the degenerative retinal condition retinitis punctata albescens at the age of 16 and was completely blind by 33. Having run track and field in junior high school, Takahashi became interested in running and made the marathon his main target when he was 30. He rapidly improved in ability, winning the Athens Paralympics men's marathon gold medal in his Paralympic debut. Because he is completely blind, Takahashi needs a guide runner to help him, a rope connecting the two athletes' hands to communicate the guide's directions. His Athens victory made his search for suitable guide runners more difficult; with a PB of 2:37:43 the number of people capable of running the same pace available to Takahashi is limited.
In Dec. 2006 Takahashi and Kawashima met each other by chance at the afterparty of a mutual runner friend's wedding. When asked about running as a guide Kawashima agreed quite readily. The two began running together, and Takahashi was soon reaching new time goals, but Kawashima began to have doubts about his suitability to be Takahashi's guide in Beijing. "In Sydney I was terrible and finished 21st," related Kawashima. "I knew Takahashi was targeting the gold medal, so I didn't know if I was the right person to be his race guide." He went to talk to the blind runner.
In that conversation Takahashi told him, "Coach, you left something behind in Sydney. Don't you want to get it now?" The strength of defending gold medalist Takahashi's zeal for a medal in Beijing washed through the medalless Kawashima and touched him deeply. "Although I can't run freely like when I'm alone, I think that if you run at all you learn to know yourself better than other people do. Running as the guide for someone who seriously intends to win will help me learn my own depth."
Takahashi found himself a strong guide runner. Kawashima found a chance to redeem himself for Sydney and something which changed his life. "If I'd just kept going by myself I would most likely have quit running." The two men will have a chance to shine together under the Beijing skies on Sept. 17.
The first group of 106 of the Japanese athletes participating in the Beijing Paralympics left for China on Aug. 30. The total 162 athletes on the Japanese will compete in 17 of the 20 Paralympic events.