Paralympian Muraoka Momoka, Racing Towards a More Equal Future

Muraoka Momoka, summer and winter Paralympian, and four-time recipient of Para alpine skiing gold medals, speaks about her vision for a more inclusive society.
Behind Muraoka Momoka is her racing wheelchair, called a "racer." It is extremely lightweight, at only 7-8 kilograms.

Sixth-Place Success at Her First Summer Paralympics

Muraoka competed in the women's 100-meter (Wheelchair T54) event at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Paralympic Games, coming in sixth place.

Looking back on her first Summer Paralympic Games, she said: "It was a bit sad not to have an audience, not hearing people cheering the way they normally would be. But because it was held in Japan, there were so many Japanese staff members who encouraged me and cheered me on, and that was really nice. But more than anything, I was just happy to be able to compete in the Summer Paralympic Games. It had been my goal for so long."

Muraoka competing in the finals of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Photo: Matsuo Kenjiro/AfloSports

Barrier-Free Environments, Barrier-Free Mindsets

The Paralympic Games are held in the same venue as the Olympic Games. This raises the question of how accessible these environments really are.

"I think with every Paralympic Games, things are becoming more and more accessible. For instance, the addition of barrier-free bathrooms and ramps. But something that's always difficult in the Games is transportation from the accommodation facility to the venue. We would get there by bus, but there was limited space for passengers in wheelchairs, so we sometimes had to wait for an hour just to get on the bus. The operational committee ran more buses, but I also made my own efforts, like leaving early so I'd have more time."

Asked about how she uses her time off, she says, laughing: "I'd love to go to Sanrio Puroland, but it's a bit far from where I'm based in Okayama."

Muraoka is a Paralympic support ambassador, part of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's roundtable meeting to promote Para sports and improve accessibility with the aim of accelerating Tokyo's efforts to become an advanced city of universal design. She has also competed in various international tournaments, which has made her familiar with barrier-free conditions in other countries. What does she think when it comes to Tokyo?

"A lot of parking lots have spaces for those with disabilities, and things like ramps. Among the developed countries, Tokyo is quite advanced when it comes to barrier-free environments. The thing that is a little annoying is how there will sometimes be regular cars parked in priority spaces, or a bike parked on a ramp, making them unusable. I would be happy to see accessibility extending not only to facilities, but also to people's attitudes, our empathy for one another, and our motivation to help each other,"

She continues, saying she wishes the installment of ramps and tactile paving was not limited to specific places. "Ramps and tactile paving in more places would not just be helpful for those of us in wheelchairs. It would also be helpful for people with strollers or white canes, or even the elderly. It would make these accessibility features less of an obligation and more of a choice, a case of 'I want to go here' instead of 'I have to go here,' and I think that would make society a better place."

As a Paralympic support ambassador, Muraoka works to promote barrier-free environments through various events and interviews.

Looking Forward: the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games

Muraoka is devoted both to her sport and to her educational efforts regarding disability awareness. When it comes to aiming for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, her next race is the World Para Athletics Championships, which will be held in Kobe in May 2024. If she comes in at least second place in this tournament, she will earn herself a ticket to the Games in Paris.

"I go through tough training every day to get my time down by a fraction of a second," says Muraoka.

Muraoka has now competed in a total of four Paralympic Games—the Winter Games in Sochi, PyeongChang, and Beijing, and the Summer Games at Tokyo 2020. After all that, however, she says the Paralympic Games hold a special meaning for her that no other international tournament can match. Expectations are high for Muraoka to win her first Summer Paralympic Games medal in Paris.

Muraoka Momoka

Born in 1997, and began competing in Para alpine skiing at the age of 14. Three years later, competed in the Paralympic Games Sochi, coming in fifth place in the giant slalom sitting. Won a total of five medals in PyeongChang in 2018, including gold in the event. In Beijing 2022, she got three gold medals in three events; downhill sitting, giant slalom sitting, and super-G sitting, and a silver medal in the super-combined sitting, making her the de facto queen of the Winter Paralympic Games.
Interview and writing by Takano Tomohiro
Photos by Ito Satomi
Translation by Amitt