The term hand-eye coordination is often used in sports to describe an athlete’s natural abilities that have been honed through countless hours of training.
Throughout the Tokyo Paralympics, hand-ear coordination was raised more than normal in people’s consciousness.
For visually impaired athletes, the importance of hearing in performing activities is perhaps best demonstrated in goalball, a sport developed for injured WWII soldiers. In goalball, hearing the opposing players’ moments and the bells of the hard rubber ball are necessary elements of competition.
In addition, goalkeepers wear visors with gauze eye patches underneath, and the reinforced cover acts evenly on the field of play. (And silence, from those on the sidelines or in the stands, is enforced when the game is on.)
Scoring goals is, of course, goal # 1 and the Japanese women’s goalball team scored five goals in the first half of their bronze medal match against Brazil on Friday 3rd September at the Makuhari Messe in Chiba.
Japan, led by coach Kyoichi Ichikawa, held onto their 6-1 win and ended the Paralympic tournament with a solid record of four wins, two losses and one draw. Turkey beat Japan twice (7-1 on August 25 and 8-5 on Thursday, September 2 in the semifinals) and then defeated the United States 9-2 in the women’s final for the second year in a row Paralympic gold in a row.
Eiko Kakehata scored a hat trick against Brazil and set the tone for Japan with two quick goals in the first half. She rolled the ball into the net with 10:04 in the half. And then at 8:49 a.m. in the first half, 28-year-old Yokohama, rated B2 (the middle of three visual impairment categories), skillfully spun the ball and bounced it through the Brazilian net to make it 2-0.
Norika Hagiwara extended the lead to 3-0 after a penalty goal to 8:42 after Brazil imposed a penalty for a gunshot wound (long ball).
Another penalty from Hagiwara, this time at 2:58, gave Japan a 4-0 lead.
39 seconds before the break, Kakehata scored again.
“Japan can win if we proceed at our own pace,” Kakehata later commented out loud The Yomiuri Shimbun.
Hagiwara also ended the game with three goals.
High expectations for Japan
The host country’s expectations of the Tokyo Paralympics were high. Japan won gold at the 2012 London Paralympics and lost four years later in the quarter-finals at the Rio Games.
There are only three players per team on the 18-meter-long and 9-meter wide goalball court, and Japan’s six players, starters and substitutes, performed effectively in all combinations. Hagiwara, Kakehata and Rieko Takahashi received most of the playing time.
In the game for third place (and everyone else) on Friday, the players gathered near their goal, which spanned the entire baseline, in the defense and waited for their opponent’s shots. The target is 1.3 meters high.
The teams take turns taking one shot each during a 24-minute competition divided into two 12-minute halves.
The ball must be thrown back to the other team 10 seconds after it has been won to speed up the action. A variety of throwing techniques are used for throwers, as demonstrated by the showdown between Japan and Brazil. For example, Brazilian players would often dump the ball with their backs in defense and forcefully toss it through their legs in their direction.
Kakehata, on the other hand, used skillful footwork and 360 degrees for some of her throws. She was born with inherited albinism and pitching is in her genes. Her father, Mitsunori Kakehata, pitchered Taiyo Whales (1984-92) from Nippon Professional Baseball for most of his professional career. He encouraged her to be successful in goalball.
“I want her to believe her pitch is a weapon and fight with it,” Mitsunori Kakehata, now an NPB scout, was quoted by The Yomiuri Shimbun. “I also want Eiko to smile from the bottom of my heart after the games.
In defense, the contributions of Hagiwara, Kakehata and Takahashi were outstanding. Their individual positioning and quick reactionary movements to plug holes when the ball approaches the net were hallmarks of their game.
Together they dived away from each other and towards each other or stretched out on the square and used their whole bodies to build defensive walls over and over again. In other words, they acted unanimously, and the combined efforts produced consistent, positive results.
The frequency of these actions occurred, well, every minute.
Brazil had 92 litters, Japan threw it 94 times.
Teammate Rie Urata, who made her Paralympic debut in 2008, also confirmed that Japan made progress on defense during the Tokyo Games
“We made a lot of mistakes in the first game against Turkey, but we have improved since then and our defense is very important and we also have to take our chances,” said Urata, according to an article published on the International Blind Sports Federation website.
Hagiwara approached Japan with 27 blocks, Takahashi had 24 (in 21 minutes) and Kakehata 21.
When the action turned on the offensive for Japan, Hagiwara was the most frequent thrower. She tried 53 throws, including two goals in the first half.
Relying on her father’s advice and pride in her craft, Kakehata made 35 throws, keeping the Brazilians off guard with a mixture of angles and speeds in their throws.
The 44-year-old Urata is already thinking about the Paralympics in Paris in 2024.
“France? I want to go,” she remarked, showing reporters her thoughts on her Paralympic future.
Author: Ed Odeven
Follow Ed on JAPAN Forwards [Japan Sports Notebook] here sundays, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week and Twitter ed_odeven.