For visually impaired cross-country skier Ryohei Ariyasu and his guide Yuhei Fujita their shared athletic journey matters as much as the Paralympic podium they hope will be their final destination.
"We're a team that shares a common goal and works together to achieve that," said Ariyasu, who finished 16th in the men's sprint free technique qualifying held at Zhangjiakou National Biathlon Centre on Wednesday, failing to advance to the final round.
There are three categories in visually impaired competitions, ranging from B1 for athletes with the least visual acuity to B3 for those with the most. Athletes ski behind sighted guides who usually wear a fluorescent bib and provide verbal instructions via a Bluetooth headset.
The skiers are a team, and both are considered Paralympic medalists if they finish in the top three.
Ariyasu, who was diagnosed with a rare eye condition called macular dystrophy when he was 15, competes in the B2 class.
The 35-year-old Japanese, who competed in para rowing at the Tokyo Games last summer, began Nordic skiing as part of his rowing training and was looking for an experienced guide when he met Fujita in the spring of 2019.
Fujita guided Nordic skier Kazuto Takamura at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018, and the 29-year-old was figuring out his next career move after Takamura retired from competitive skiing.
The newly formed team started working together on the snow the next winter with the veteran guide teaching the amateur Nordic skier the ins and outs of the sport stride by stride.
Nordic skiing is any form of skiing where the heel of the boot is not connected to the ski binding, allowing the toe end of the boot to serve as a hinge on each push or stride. In Alpine skiing, the length of the boot is fastened to the ski binding.
As soon as he began to ski, Ariyasu's talent became evident, according to Fujita.
"He has outstanding athletic ability and he is a fast learner," Fujita said, while Ariyasu said Fujita's hunger to win makes him a perfect partner as they share similar levels of motivation to get the best result possible.
Ariyasu only made his international debut as a para skier last year and he received a wildcard entry to the Beijing Games.
Ariyasu and Fujita have promised each other they will win a Paralympic medal one day. After finishing seventh in their opening 20-kilometer long distance classical technique vision impaired event on Monday they are zero-for-two.
They will get another chance, their last in Beijing, in the 12.5 km middle distance race on Saturday.