Sakurai targets medals to promote wheelchair fencing in Japan


Japanese wheelchair fencer Anri Sakurai has high hopes for her developing career

By Saniya Surana | For IWAS

Japanese wheelchair fencer Anri Sakurai has high hopes for her developing career, and plans to use the podium as a platform for raising awareness of the sport in her country in the lead-up to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Sakurai is acutely aware that consistency is required over the next year in order to qualify for her home Paralympics. The 30-year-old is targeting a top three finish in foil and epee at the 2019 International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) Wheelchair Fencing World Championships in Cheongju, South Korea, from 17-23 September.

“The competition in this year is very important for selection for Tokyo 2020 for me,” Sakurai said.

“So my aim is to get the medal in every competition. I absolutely want to get the medals in two weapons at the World Championships on September. Because I am able to increase awareness of wheelchair fencing in Japan if I can get the medal in international competition.”

Sakurai has made a good start. In just under four years she has broken into the top 10 in epee and foil category B. At the opening World Cup of 2019 in February, she won bronze in the epee and picked up the same colour in both events at the 2018 Asian Para Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Sakurai started a blog to promote wheelchair fencing related activities, her competition and training. She also launched a 1,400 day campaign on her Instagram to promote Tokyo 2020.

Winning is a means to her end of generating awareness and for this purpose, Sakurai has shifted her base to train with her international peers.

“I changed my base from Japan to London because I don’t have enough experience. So I’m training at Leon Paul Fencing Centre with the Great Britain team every day. I’ll get many experiences in London and do my best in selection games. It’s important to go step-by-step and day-by-day for my road to Tokyo 2020,” Sakurai said.

After injuring her spinal cord a decade ago, Sakurai met a physical therapist who became her mentor. Incredibly, she was then talent spotted by the Japanese Wheelchair Fencing Association while working in a sports shop.

“Wheelchair fencing changed my life and mind. My life revolves around wheelchair fencing as an athlete now.”

Sakurai firmly believes that passion and love for wheelchair fencing is a pre-requisite to maintaining consistency in performance and reaching the best results: “Wheelchair Fencing is like our life because we have to choose and concentrate in the game and life. So one can grow as a person and athlete by constantly challenging oneself.”

While Sakurai believes in training hard to beat some of her toughest competitors who she believes come from Italy, Russia, China and Thailand, her ambitions are not restricted to Tokyo 2020.

“Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games is not the goal in my life. It’s but one phase of life for me. Because I’m thinking I want to keep doing wheelchair fencing as athlete after Tokyo 2020. So my target is Paris 2024 and America 2028 [Los Angeles] in the next few years. And I’ll probably be training in London every day for next target.”

The 2019 IWAS Wheelchair Fencing World Championships will be the penultimate competition of the year, ahead of the final World Cup in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, from 14-17 November. Before then, World Cups will take place in Sao Paulo, Brazil, from 20-26 May and Warsaw, Poland, from 10-15 July.