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Japan clinches first medal in boccia at Rio Paralympics

From left in the front row, Japanese boccia team members Yuriko Fujii, Takayuki Hirose, Takayuki Kitani and Hidetaka Sugimura pose with their silver medals at Carioca Arena in Rio de Janeiro on Sept. 12, 2016. (Mainichi Photo/Noriko Tokuno)

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Japanese athletes rejoiced after winning a silver medal in boccia at the Paralympic Games here on Sept. 12 local time, the first ever Paralympic medal for Japan in the sport.

    Japan was defeated by Thailand 9-4 in the mixed team final for cerebral palsy patients. Takayuki Hirose, 32, of the Japanese team, applauded Japan's opponents, while saying, "I'm happy." Captain Hidetaka Sugimura, 34, was overwhelmed with the weight of the silver medal, commenting, "It's heavy." Yuriko Fujii, 43, said with a smile, "I hope this medal will provide an opportunity for this fun sport boccia to become widely known."

    According to the website of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, boccia is a sport developed in Europe for people with severe cerebral palsy or equivalent impairment of limb function. Players throw or roll six balls colored red or blue in an attempt to place them closest to the jack (a white target ball).

    Fujii developed cerebral palsy soon after she was born in Toyama Prefecture. Serious limb deficiencies left her with difficulty walking, and she confined herself at home for many years. In 2003, she came across boccia at a sport fair for the disabled in Toyama and was instantly fascinated.

    "After I encountered boccia, I began going out for practice and games," she says.

    As boccia can be enjoyed by people with or without disabilities, Fujii says, "By more and more people engaging in the sport, I hope disabled people who confine themselves at home like I did are tempted to hit the streets." (By Taro Iiyama, Mainichi Shimbun)

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