One year out from the big event, we are offering a showcase of Toyota athletes from around the world. Part 1 is packed with athlete video messages and special interviews!
The September 1 edition of Toyota Times Sports showcased Toyota athletes from around the world. A year out from the Paris Games, we shine the spotlight on notable Global Team Toyota Athletes (GTTAs) from each region. Alongside a recent World Athletics Championships medalist and paratriathlon world champions, the program features Japanese basketballers Yuta Watanabe and Yudai Baba, and table tennis player Tomokazu Harimoto. Don’t miss our in-depth interviews!
The 196-strong Global Team Toyota Athletes
The one-year countdown to the Paris Games has finally begun. A key part of the event’s excitement is cheering on athletes from various countries and regions, not just your own. Over the next two weeks, Toyota Times will introduce the GTTA competitors expected to shine and bring home medals.
Including winter sports, the GTTAs supported by Toyota number 196 (as of July 2023): 114 competing in Olympic disciplines and 82 in Paralympic sports. They span 38 countries and regions, and 68 different events.
A Puerto Rican table tennis star based in Osaka
For this episode, Toyota Times Sports turned the focus on 13 athletes. First up, host Kyonosuke Morita met with Adriana Díaz, who has represented Puerto Rico in table tennis at back-to-back Games. Since last year, she has been training in Fujiidera, Osaka, while competing in Japan’s T.League.
Having established a reputation for her powerful game, Díaz has honed her speed and footwork under a coach who also mentored Jun Mizutani.
“The Olympics is the most important tournament for every athlete,” she says. “Not every player is just representing themselves, but also their country. ... Of course, it would be a dream to take a medal, but I believe that if I put in the work that I need to, I can make it possible. I want to make the best of it.”
After the interview, Díaz accompanied Morita and the Toyota Times Sports crew to a local okonomiyaki restaurant, where she took a shine to yakisoba after enjoying her first taste. See Adriana’s charming smile and the full interview here.
A paratriathlon world champion’s vision for society
Alexis Hanquinquant represents France in the paratriathlon. He won gold at the last Games and is once again the favorite. He spoke remotely with Morita.
Reflecting on the significance of competing for the host nation, Alexis commented, “France is a wonderful country, but it's far from an easy place to live for the disabled. We are still a minority. Society separates people with and without disabilities. By doing well in competition, I hope to kick society into finally opening their eyes and stop hiring only the able-bodied. I want to change this kind of societal thinking.”
Hanquinquant shared that his wife loves the Yaris Cross she recently bought. “Whether it’s a wheelchair or a robotic tool, it's important to achieve Mobility for All through various initiatives,” he said. “Toyota's Mobility for All concept, in a way, has much in common with the triathlon.”
When Morita asked for some French words to use in cheering, the affable Alexis offered “Allez (Let’s go) Toyota!” Click here for the full interview.
Video messages from overseas athletes
The program also shared video messages from eight other international athletes. Among them were America’s Gabrielle Thomas, who won two medals at this year’s World Athletics Championships, and Ryley Batt, who has appeared in the past five Games as part of Australia’s wheelchair rugby team. They expressed their ambitions for next year’s event and gratitude for the Toyota family.
Basketballers Yuta Watanabe and Yudai Baba set sights on Paris
And from Japan, the show features a special interview with Yuta Watanabe and Yudai Baba, who clinched their place on the national men’s basketball team on the day after our broadcast. Meeting with Morita in late July, they spoke passionately of their disappointment at the Tokyo games and their hopes for next year.
“I love basketball, and I get to play more by being on the national team,” says Watanabe. “But playing for your country comes with responsibility. We have to compete with that strong resolve.”
Baba also voiced his commitment, saying, “Under a new team and coach, I look forward to seeing how far we can go. After our losing streak (at the previous Games), I want to win.” Watch the rest of their interview here.
The cool-headed self-awareness of 20-year-old Tomokazu Harimoto
Table tennis player Tomokazu Harimoto’s composed responses during our interview were a stark contrast with his passionate play on the court. Morita described the conversation as being “like a rally,” with Harimoto firing back answers to every question. This ability to articulate his message inspires great confidence. Yet while Harimoto is naturally aiming for gold in all his events, he also shared the following thoughts:
“I don't remember much about winning usually. Losing, on the other hand, stays with me forever. The next ten years are going to bring hardships too, and even bigger failures may await, but that is part of table tennis and part of life. There is no reason why I should win all the time. Everyone works hard as their livelihood is at stake. If I can win more than half, 51-52 % of the time, I will be more than happy, and if it happens in Paris, that would be great.”
Harimoto also talked about his soul-searching after Tokyo, the areas where he feels growth, the difficulty of continuing to win, and the reason for tearing up after the World Championships, his last tournament as a teenager. Find all this and more here.
The athletes’ powerful words offer strength for our own daily lives, and will no doubt encourage viewers to follow their journey. On that note, let’s end with a message from Chinese wheelchair fencing gold medalist Li Hao, who reminds us that the Games will soon be here once more.
“I will do my best to Start Your Impossible. I am ready. Are you?”
Toyota Times Sports streams live on YouTube every Friday from 11:50 (JST). Next week (September 8) is the second part of our GTTA feature, all about Japanese Toyota athletes. Visually impaired judoka Shizuka Hangai and Kippei Taninaka, a member of Japan’s men’s rugby sevens team, will make their first appearance on the program for a special chat, alongside other guests including wheelchair tennis player Takuya Miki, para-athlete Hajimu Ashida, and swimmer Ippei Watanabe. Don’t miss it!