Paralympic Games: Blind skier Ryohei Ariyasu and his guide form a team with one goal

Visually impaired cross-country skier Ryohei Ariyasu, left, competes in the Beijing Paralympic Games with his guide Yuhei Fujita on March 9, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China. (Kyodo)

ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Kyodo) — For visually impaired cross-country skier Ryohei Ariyasu and his guide Yuhei Fujita, their shared athletic journey is as important as the Paralympic podium they hope will be their final destination.

“We are a team that shares a common goal and works together to achieve it,” said Ariyasu, who finished 16th in the men’s sprint free technique qualifying held at the Zhangjiakou National Biathlon Center on Wednesday, without qualify for the final round.

There are three categories in competitions for the visually impaired, 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 fluorescent bibs and give verbal instructions via Bluetooth headphones.

The skiers form a team and both are considered Paralympic medalists if they finish in the top three.

Ariyasu, who was diagnosed with a rare eye disease 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, took up Nordic skiing as part of his rowing training and was looking for an experienced guide when he met Fujita in spring 2019 .

Fujita guided Nordic skier Kazuto Takamura to the Pyeongchang Games in 2018, and the 29-year-old was considering his next career move after Takamura retired from ski racing.

The newly formed team began working together on the snow the following 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 binding of the ski, allowing the end of the boot to act as a hinge with each push or stride. In alpine skiing, the length of the boot is fixed to the binding of the ski.

As soon as he started skiing, Ariyasu’s talent became apparent, according to Fujita.

“He has outstanding athletic ability and he learns fast,” Fujita said, while Ariyasu said Fujita’s hunger for victory made him a perfect partner as they share similar levels of motivation to achieve the best possible result. .

Ariyasu only made his international debut as a paraskier last year and he received a wildcard for the Beijing Games.

Ariyasu and Fujita promised each other to win a Paralympic medal one day. After finishing seventh in their first 20 kilometer long distance event in classic technique for the visually impaired on Monday, they are zero against two.

They will have another chance, their last in Beijing, in the 12.5km middle-distance race on Saturday.

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