Takeuchi Tomoka eyes 6th Winter Games - and more in life
With newfound perspective, Japanese silver medallist rekindles love for snowboarding
As a five-time Olympic snowboarder with a silver medal in the parallel giant slalom, one would think Takeuchi Tomoka has experienced just about everything there is to experience at the Games.
No. 6 will be a record for a Japanese woman at the Olympic Winter Games.
But for Beijing 2022, Takeuchi may have something she may not have had in the past - an outlook.
“The world of sports and Olympics is so small. The Olympics aren't everything”, Takeuchi said in an interview with Japanese media.
"Sports may not seem like a big deal to many people, but it is to me. I want to be an athlete who gives back to the community, a human being who can be relied upon”.
To live and learn
Takeuchi turned 37 on 21 December. Her Olympic debut at Salt Lake City 2002 are yesteryears.
For her previous Games in PyeongChang, Takeuchi was anything but confident. In fact the exact opposite.
After finishing on the podium at Sochi 2014 - a first for a Japanese woman in snowboarding - the Hiroshima native tore the ACL in her left knee in March 2016. The timetable for recovery was 10 months.
Yet she would finish a respectable fifth at PyeongChang 2018 despite having a less than ideal run-up to the competition.
Following the Games, Takeuchi went off the grid until August 2020, a layoff of two-and-a-half years.
She travelled. She took up yoga and scuba diving. She tried to spread her sport, working at the grassroots and youth level.
Making a choice
Just before returning to competitive snowboarding, she decided to freeze her eggs - something not unheard of in Japan but not a common choice either.
Certainly not among world-class athletes like Takeuchi. But she felt compelled to go public with her decision anyway, hoping that by opening up, it would help strike the conversation now - and beyond.
For all the talk about gender equality - a core value of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games - the movement still has a long way to go in Japan.
"I wanted to make sure there are no regrets when I look back on my life five years from now, 10 years from now”, Takeuchi said.
"It makes me happy to know I helped open the discussion (about the option to freeze eggs).
"The way I see it, even if there was no such term as gender equality, I want to be strong enough to fight for equal opportunities”.