Paralympians prepare for Tokyo 2020 through Japanese training opportunities

Some athletes hoping to compete at the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo are getting training opportunities in Japan. This is part of an initiative to help countries that have few sporting facilities for athletes with disabilities.

A sprinter from Zambia traveled to Tokyo earlier this month. She was invited by Japan's Sports Agency to learn from Japanese training methods. Zambia has taken part in the Paralympics only 4 times, sending a total of 6 athletes. The African country didn't compete in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

But Zambian officials have high hopes for para-athletes who will compete in the Tokyo Games. "I really advise to the government of the Republic of Zambia to at least look at what other countries are doing for the people with disabilities," says Harriet Chali Kseba of the National Paralympic Committee of Zambia.

18-year-old Monica Munga is sight-impaired. The Zambian government has selected her as one of its top athletes. During her stay in Japan, she trained at Nippon Sport Science University. The school has produced many elite athletes, including those with disabilities.

Yoko Mizuno, head coach of the university's para-athletic team, worked with Munga. Mizuno wanted to share as many training techniques as possible with Munga before she went back home. Her training sessions included basic leg movements for sprinting.

Munga's practice partner on this day was Sae Tsuji. The Japanese sprinter won the bronze medal in the women's 400-meter event at the Rio Games. Tsuji spotted a weakness in Munga's running style. Munga was hitting the ground toe-first. Tsuji says this was slowing her down. Tsuji's advice is to hit the ground with the entire sole, to gain force when pushing off. The 2 runners faced off in a 200-meter sprint. Training with a Paralympic medalist gave Munga a renewed sense of commitment ahead of the Tokyo Games. "I wish to be like her because I really want to compete at the 2020 Tokyo. So, I try to be like her and make my best to be like her," she says.

"I hope people across the world will learn through sports and the Paralympics that there are many interesting and wonderful people. I also want more and more people to smile through sports," says Tsuji.

An unprecedented 164 countries and regions took part in the London Paralympics 6 years ago. Officials with Japan's Sports Agency hope that nurturing athletes from abroad will put the Tokyo Paralympics on course for a new record.