Golden moment for Okinawan Special Olympians
February 27, 2009
CHATAN, Okinawa — Trickery was a secret to a Japanese team’s win of a gold medal in floor hockey at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Boise, Idaho.
Coach Takeshi Zukeran, 34, revealed Tuesday during a meeting of the Okinawa chapter of Special Olympics Japan that he tricked his team into thinking the final game was just another semifinal match. He didn’t want them feeling too pressured to win.
"When I told them that we won the gold medal, everybody started to cry for joy," he said. "It is a great reward to see each team member grow stronger, both physically and mentally."
The team was formed in 2002 by volunteer American servicemembers, said Chip Steitz, chairman of the chapter’s finance and public relations committee.
Six members of Japan’s 14-member "Team Sakura" floor hockey squad are from Okinawa.
Floor hockey was one of the most popular of the seven sports featured at the games earlier this month, with more than 80 teams competing in the event. The games also featured Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, figure skating, snowboarding, snowshoeing and speed skating.
"I was happy because we had a great time together," said a smiling Hitoshi Neho, 37, the floor hockey team’s goalkeeper.
Throughout the years, donations from Americans and U.S. military base groups have played a key role in outfitting the team, Steitz said.
Steitz was awarded a certificate of appreciation at the meeting, where he praised the player’s efforts.
"The team’s achievement was incredible," Steitz said. "Through our journey, we have made a difference to hundreds if not thousands of special-needs athletes and artists living on Okinawa."