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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Junior triathlete shows champion spirit

Ko Okabe

Nov. 24, 2017

Japanese schoolgirl Tsubomi Yokokura has overcome a life-threatening disease to become a champion athlete. She is at the top of her game in the sport of triathlon, an event that combines swimming, cycling and running. It has been an Olympic sport since 2000.

This year, eight-year-old Tsubomi is pinning her hopes on claiming a third straight national title. She weighs less than 24 kilograms and stands only 125cm tall, but she has proved herself to be a petite powerhouse.

Tsubomi took up triathlon just two years ago, at the age of six. She won the national title for first-graders in her debut. Last year she won in the second-graders category, and this year, she wants to make it three in a row.

“I'm in good shape. I can swim powerfully, pedal the bike forcefully, and run fast with good form. I want to win my third title and make my parents proud,” she says before the race.

Just getting to the starting line is an achievement for Tsubomi. She was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening congenital disease that affects her kidneys soon after she was born. After undergoing surgery when she was two, her doctor recommended sports to build physical strength.

She started triathlon training with her father when she was six years old. “I may have overreacted, but I'm grateful she survived the illness and grew up like this,” her father says. He has been helping her train three hours every day to prepare for this year's title event.

She can now pedal an average of 31 kilometers per hour, faster than last year. On the day of the competition, she feels ready. “I want to do my best so I'll have no regrets,” says Tsubomi.

Her event for third-grade girls consists of a 100-meter swim, five-kilometer cycle, and a one-kilometer run. The swim, Tsubomi’s least-favorite component, is first. She gets caught up among other competitors and emerges from the water in 6th position. Next is cycling, where she hopes to make the most of her improved skills. She maintains a good speed even while pushing uphill and surges into the lead.

She hangs on to her lead in the run and with that takes her third consecutive national title. “I'm happy I could make my parents proud,” she says after the race. “I want to thank everyone for supporting me.”

Tsubomi's coach and her supporters hope she’ll become an Olympic athlete. But her dream is to become a doctor, like those who treated her disease and put her on a winning path.