Two athletes from Japan's Paralympic boccia team left with good impressions Friday after visiting the site of the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, the future venue for the sport at next summer's Tokyo Games.
Hidetaka Sugimura and Takayuki Hirose, members of Japan's silver medal-winning mixed team at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, said touring the construction site in Tokyo's waterfront district gave them some peace of mind with less than 18 months to go until the games kick off.
"I felt like it's an environment where I'll be able to play at ease," Sugimura said of the venue designed based on accessibility guidelines set by the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee.
The para athletes learned that the warm-up facility and venue are near each other, and that the site was planned to ensure the smooth movement of athletes from their arrival until their actual matches.
The pair also spoke to about 100 students at nearby Ariake Nishi Gakuen, an elementary and middle school designated by the Tokyo metropolitan government as a "boccia cheering school." The school sees the games as an opportunity to promote awareness and understanding of para sport.
The sport, one of two in the Paralympics with no Olympic counterpart, sees each side taking turns rolling six balls at a target ball or "jack." Points are given to the side having more balls closer to the jack at the conclusion of each of the four rounds or "ends."
"I've done it once before, but I was able to understand boccia better (this time)," said 9-year-old Hinano Suzuki, who was shown the basics of the sport by the two athletes.
Twenty schools in the capital's metropolitan area have been assigned as cheering schools for nine competitions at the Aug. 25-Sept. 6 Paralympics.
Staff at Ariake Nishi Gakuen said students have deepened their understanding of the Paralympic Games through their interaction with boccia, which was initially designed for people with cerebral palsy. The sport is now played by athletes with any neurological impairment that affects their motor function.
Japan's boccia athletes are expected to follow up on their success in Rio when the Olympics return to Tokyo for the first time since 1964. The 2020 medal events are scheduled to take place on Sept. 2 and 5.