Hokkaido’s Ikezaki proud of team’s fighting spirit as Japan wins wheelchair rugby bronze at second consecutive games

Ikezaki (far left), who won his second consecutive bronze medal, with his teammates

The Tokyo Paralympic Games’ wheelchair rugby third-place play-off match took place on August 29, with Japan – led by star player Ikezaki Daisuke (43) (Mitsubishi Corporation; graduate of Hokkaido Iwamizawa Special-needs High School) beating powerhouse Australia 60-52 to win their 2nd consecutive bronze medal, after also winning bronze at the Rio 2016 Games. Despite it not being the gold medal, to which the host nation aspired, Ikezaki is proud of the team’s fighting spirit, saying “It’s the bronze medal but the players shone on the court; the team shone brighter than gold”.

For 5 years, the team aimed for nothing but gold. On the day, Ikezaki roamed freely, as if to shake off the shock of losing to Great Britain in the semi-final on the previous day. He scored 23 tries – the most in the team – contributing greatly to the victory. Just like after winning the first bronze medal in Rio, Ikezaki did not celebrate, but chose to quietly reflect on the match. “It was the best result the Japan team of today could get.”

Wheelchair rugby is played by a mix of male and female players, with each player allocated points according to the level of their disability. The Japan team at these games included its first female player. The team’s age range of 19-46 is wide, as is the range, level and history of the injuries of the players, which include those with congenital intractable diseases that gradually weaken the strength of limbs – as in the case of Ikezaki – as well as those with limb defects and cervical spine injuries caused by accidents.

Ikezaki says that ‘diversity’ is what makes the sport appealing. “Everyone is different, so that makes us all try to understand each other’s circumstances and help each other. The bond becomes stronger.” With these shared thoughts, throughout the tournament, the Japan team demonstrated a style of play that racked-up points thanks to the exquisite teamwork of players with differing levels of disabilities.

Although the team’s aim was not realized, the appeal of wheelchair rugby was displayed in full. “If we get beaten in the Paralympics, we get our own back in the Paralympics,” says Ikezaki. With the bittersweet bronze medal on his chest, Ikezaki looks ahead bullishly to the next Games.