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Rio Paralympic swimmer Ichinose working hard to match her image

Japanese Paralympic swimmer Mei Ichinose speaks during a news conference in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Aug. 2, 2016. (Mainichi)

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Expectations on 19-year-old Japanese Paralympic swimmer Mei Ichinose were high going into the Rio Games. Registered in six individual events, she is also expected to perform at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. She has even appeared in a television commercial, and though her performance so far at her first Paralympic Games has not matched the high hopes, she remains determined.

    After failing to make the final of the women's 100m Breaststroke S9 event, Ichinose also missed out on a place in the final of the women's 200m Individual Medley SM9. "My image has gone ahead of me, but I hope I can approach it step by step," she said.

    Ichinose hails from Kyoto, and her father is from Britain. She was born without a right arm from the elbow down. She began swimming lessons from a young age, and at the Asian Para Games in China in 2010, she became the youngest girl to compete, at the age of 13. She went on to win a silver medal in a 50-meter freestyle event. At the Asian Para Games in South Korea in 2014, she picked up four medals.

    Last spring, Ichinose entered Kindai University on a sports recommendation and joined the swimming club there, which has churned out many Olympic medalists. She was bewildered by the tough relationship between senior and junior students, and the time she put into training nearly doubled. But she worked hard, and she earned a ticket to Rio in a qualifying trial in March this year.

    Once, when she was 7, she was refused entry into a swimming club because of her impairment. But in Britain, where she lived for a year with her mother from partway through her fourth year of elementary school, it was not uncommon for disabled people to train alongside those without disabilities.

    In February last year, she won a Japanese national high school English speech contest in which she spoke on the idea that "it is society that makes people disabled, and not their impairment."

    Ichinose always feels the need to call for societal understanding toward the disabled. She agreed to appear in a television commercial for Toyota Motor Corp. that has been broadcast since May this year. "I lack raw power as a competitor, but there are surely things I can convey," she thought in accepting the role.

    The individual medley on Sept. 11 was one of her stronger events, but she was not able to set a new personal best.

    "The results aren't matching up with my own perception," she said. Still, she hopes to use her experiences to prepare for Tokyo in 2020.

    "Just being able to compete should be a good experience for me," she said, resetting herself as she looks ahead to her remaining races at Rio. (By Taro Iiyama, Mainichi Shimbun)

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