Summer of discontent: IKEZAKI Daisuke not settling for bronze, eyes elusive gold at Paris 2024

For the heart and soul of Japanese wheelchair rugby, a second successive bronze at Tokyo 2020 wasn't good enough. It's all about being the best in the world for the 43-year-old try-scoring machine.

Wheelchair Rugby
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

IKEZAKI Daisuke had no tears to shed after Japan beat two-time defending Paralympic champions Australia for the Tokyo 2020 bronze on Sunday (29 August).

He shed them all a day earlier, when Japan lost 55-49 to eventual gold medallists Great Britain in the semi-final at Yoyogi National Stadium.

"At these Games in our home country, we wanted the medal that shines most. We wanted to be the team that played the best rugby", Ikezaki said in an interview with Olympics.com.

"We had a big, big opportunity to do something meaningful. It was well within our reach, we were good enough."

"So to end up with bronze was the most disappointing moment of my entire career, really disappointing." - IKEZAKI Daisuke to Olympics.com

"I spent five years training for this. What am I missing? What am I lacking?"

Gold or bust

Ikezaki and Japan set the bar high for themselves at Tokyo 2020 after capturing the bronze at Rio 2016 which they followed up by winning the 2018 world championships.

Ikezaki was named MVP of those championships.

Going into these Paralympic Games as the world's third-ranked team, Japan set their sights on a gold medal, nothing less.

The campaign started well with victory over France for Kevin Orr's men. They went on to down Denmark and Australia to reach the last four as the top team out of their pool.

But whether it was nerves or the preparedness of GB - or both - the hosts fell apart in the semi-final, making a series of uncharacteristic mistakes.

Japan were only down by two at the intermission but by the end of the third period, were trailing 42-33 and failed to get back in the game.

They regrouped against the Australians a day later to win bronze for the second successive Games but it was of little consolation for Ikezaki, who has been on a mission to spread and improve the standing of Parasports in Japan.

He knew the clout that comes with being a gold medallist would have been pivotal in furthering the cause.

"The difference between finishing first and third is night and day. Gold is the medal that really counts. If you're a gold medallist, you're No. 1 in the world."

"People listen if you're the best in the world at what you do. Their words have the power to change, to move".

GettyImages-1336608849
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Looking in the mirror

Ikezaki is not going to lie, he is spent after five years of non-stop wheelchair rugby.

While the current state of emergency in Japan restricts him from travel, he would love nothing more than to head to the countryside and take a long dip in a nice onsen, empty his mind.

Ikezaki says now is a time for self-reflection. After that the 43-year-old will embark on another journey - to Paris.

"I'm confident I can still get better. I can get stronger, faster", he said. "I'm a 3.0 but I can be a 3.5 - a 3.5 who won't back down or lose 50-50s.

"The way I look at it, we can only make up for this at the Paralympics. As long as I'm competing I have to be the best in the world not only as an athlete but to help spread Paralympic sport".