Longtime Japan coach returns from China stint to lead Para Alpine team

Courtesy of the Japan Para-Ski Federation
Kazuhiko Ban coaches members of Japan’s Para Alpine skiing team.

Japan’s Para Alpine skiing team is looking to make its mark at the Beijing Paralympics with its former coach back in the fold.

Kazuhiko Ban headed the national team from 2002 to 2012. He has also worked as a coach in Australia and South Korea, then was hired by China’s national team to be its coach as the country wanted to enhance the skills of its Paralympic athletes ahead of the Beijing Winter Games.

Ban led China’s Para Alpine skiers at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018, then rejoined the Japan national team two seasons ago.

The 62-year-old is leading the Japan team in the final stages of domestic training, with the Beijing Paralympic Games set to begin March 4.

With his recent experiences, Ban is not only able to support athletes like Taiki Morii because he knows what they are good at, but also because he can tell them accurate information about the competition in China.

When Ban worked for China, he trained Paralympic athletes selected from all over the country at training centers in Jilin Province in the northeast. Ban said there were about 20 top-level athletes, and some were teenagers at the time.

“They are given salaries for playing the sport and some of them sent money to family members living separately,” Ban said. “Because they lose this income if they are not selected to the team, all of them were hungry.”

Tough competition in recent years has raised the ability of Paralympic athletes in China. During the Pyeongchang Games, only one female athlete from China competed in Para Alpine skiing, but at the Beijing Paralympics, several will be competing. Ban said there is an athlete from China who can rival Japan’s Momoka Muraoka in women’s sit skiing.

As the Para Alpine skiing venue for the Paralympics is the same as that used for the Beijing Olympics, Ban expects steep slopes and icy conditions that will make for tough courses.

“If the level of difficulty of the courses is high, the races will be like survival challenges,” Ban said, as many athletes could retire before reaching the finish line.

For Muraoka, Morii and other athletes on the Japan team who have experienced several World Cups and other international events, Ban predicted that “there will be many chances” to succeed.

At the national team’s training camp which began this week, some athletes practiced for high-speed events like the downhill.

“Though I can not prepare the same courses as those in Beijing, the athletes can ski in a meaningful manner,” Ban said. “If they can maintain their current condition, they’ll be fine.”