Urata seeks inspiration from Japan’s Paralympic past
Date: July 5, 2021
For Japan’s women’s goalball team, featuring at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games would have fulfilled a lifetime ambition, but little did they know that their efforts in winning a bronze would inspire a future star in Rie Urata.
The then 27-year-old was still coming to terms with her impairment as retinitis pigmentosa had destroyed her vision in both eyes seven years before. A rare genetic disorder, it affects the retina at the back of the eye causing gradual but permanent changes to your vision.
The Japanese team finished third in their group in Athens, behind the USA who ended their dream of Paralympic gold with a 3-1 victory in the final four. However, they bounced back and secured the country’s first ever Paralympic medal in goalball. This resonated with Urata who was inspired by their efforts and saw the sport as an opportunity.
“It was a time when I was visually impaired and depressed, and I was surprised that I could play sports even if I couldn’t see it. I wanted to challenge my own potential.”
Urata does admit that despite her sporting success, her disability has affected her away from the court as she came to terms with her life-changing condition.
“My disability made me feel invisible, like I was deprived of my freedom because I couldn’t do every single thing in my daily life.”
However, her potential was soon noticed by selectors as she made her national debut just two years later in 2006 at the World Championships in Spartanburg, USA.
Competing at the highest level for her country is something Urata never takes for granted and is aware of the opportunity she has.
“I want many people to know the fun and charm of goalball and I want to convey my gratitude by playing.”
Despite being a latecomer to the sport, the Nankan native has already played at three Paralympics; Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016.
“They bring great excitement to the dreams of athletes aiming for them and to those who support them. I think it’s a very valuable sports festival.”
Her first experience on the biggest stage in Beijing was a disappointing one overall as Japan finished seventh. But four years later it was a complete turnaround.
A second place finish in their group, followed by a win against Brazil in the quarter-finals set up a meeting with Sweden in the last-four.
In dramatic fashion, they claimed a 4-3 victory after sudden death, with Urata hailing her side’s ‘systematic defense’.
They then earned a gold medal by shocking world champions China 1-0, having scored just 11 goals in the competition.
Four years ago at Rio 2016, they made it to the last-eight again but this time were beaten by China 5-3.
Being a Paralympic champion gives Urata the experience needed to make it back onto the podium.
“I can grow myself in the process of setting and achieving goals, and I love to collaborate with my peers to win.”
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will take place from 24 August – 5 September with goalball beginning on 25 August and concluding on 3 September. All competitions will take place at Makuhari Messe.