For Kingsley Ijomah the Paralympic Games in Tokyo feels like a distant memory, so much so in fact he is already thinking about Paris 2024! Yes, that’s the man who said he just wanted to complete once, now has his sights firmly set on a medal at the next Games.
With such a build-up, and uncertainty surrounding the 2020/21 Games last month, just arriving in Japan felt like a win in itself for Kingsley.
“As soon as the plane landed, we were greeted by a welcoming party. There were hundreds of volunteers around the airport welcoming athletes, carrying out testing and directing us, it felt like I was in a bubble.”
Each country was allocated its own hotel and training facility to quarantine in for one week prior to the Games. The Nigerian hotel was 40km outside of Tokyo and enabled Kingsley to get a real sense of the country, outside of the city, “I couldn’t believe how small everything felt, the cars, the buildings, it felt like it was all scaled down.” Getting used to the heat was the first priority with temperatures hitting 35 degrees and 84% humidity; it was a far cry from the banks of the Thames, in Marlow! After one week of training in the facility by the hotel, the athletes were welcomed into the Athletes Village in Tokyo. “It was an incredible place, like a small town in itself with flags lining the streets and the most incredible buzz of anticipation.” Every person within the village was given an access card which enabled them various privileges depending on their position. As an athlete Kingsley had free access to eyes tests, teeth whitening, medical care, sportswear, even a new mobile phone, and this was on top of a dining facility serving every national cuisine you could imagine all free of charge. “If I wanted a three-course meal at 2 am I could walk right in and get it, everything was at my fingertips.”
“The village was a complete sensory overload. However, what was really wonderful was seeing people with varying disabilities everywhere I looked. No longer the minority it felt really inspiring like you could achieve anything no matter what.”
Kingsley had 5 training days from arriving in the village until competing, however, two of those days were lost as his luggage containing all his equipment was sent to the wrong hotel and then when it did arrive one of the floats for the boat was damaged. This delay left Kingsley with just 3 days to train on the water where he would be competing. “The temperatures, the wind, even the glare of the sun on the water are all factors you have to get used to when rowing somewhere new.”
On the day of the first race there was a strong crosswind over the river and competitors had to draw for their lane. Unfortunately for Kingsley, he was in the far-left lane, taking the brunt of the wind and only 300m in he pulled his shoulder. “I just felt my shoulder pop. Luckily the adrenaline kept me going so I finished the race. I was in pain but pleased to hear I’d managed to come in 4th position, ahead of the USA and Sri Lanka who I kept in my sights.” After the race, Kingsley had to receive an MRI and was advised not to compete further. “I didn’t travel all that way not to compete so they strapped up my shoulder and I went into race two on the second day. The pain was intense and I came last, which was really disappointing. In the final race the following day I gave my all and managed to position 5th.”
“My shoulder was very uncomfortable but it was wonderful to know I’d completed all of my events and as a result I am now ranked 10th in the world.”
“Despite not winning a medal, all competitors attended the medal ceremony, which was one of the most inspiring memories of the whole experience. Seeing Ukraine, Australia and Brazil on the podium collecting their medals was something that will stay with me forever. It was at this point I knew I wanted that, I wanted a medal and I made the decision to complete in Paris 2024.”
With just 48 hours to recover before returning home after his event, Kingsley had a day to rest and spent his final 24 hours shopping in the athlete’s village, collecting all his freebies, he was even able to take his Tokyo 2020 branded duvet home, which is dog now proudly has in his basket.
While it seems like months ago, not just weeks, Kingsley is taking a few months rest from his training before beginning his Paris 2024 training plan in January. However, Kingsley isn’t just relaxing on the sofa during this time, he has come back to work full time for gravity9 working with one of our longest serving clients in the USA as the lead developer.
“It’s great to be back with the gravity9 team again, however, I am already thinking about Paris and how different it is going to feel having crowds cheer me on and to know my family are there, I did miss that in Tokyo, the banks of the river were silent, it felt very different.”
So, it’s just a matter of months before Kingsley is back in the rowing saddle training for Paris, and his next goal.