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Women to Watch in London 2012: Maya Nakanishi

Your feminist-friendly guide to the women of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. This week: Japan’s Maya Nakanishi.

Country: Japan. She has trained at the US Olympic Centre in San Diego, USA since 2009.

Sport: 100m sprint, 200m sprint, and long jump (T44 category).

Likely to win: She is tipped as a possible medal contender. In the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, she placed 4th in the 200m and 6th in the 100m. Since moving to the USA to train, she has set Japanese records at all three of her events. However, she couldn’t afford to compete at the 2011 World Championships, so it’s uncertain how competitive she will be against a global field in 2012.

Other reasons she’s interesting: Many athletes competing at the Games, particularly Paralympic athletes, do not get adequate funding from their governments to allow them to train and compete. Sick of scrimping, even sometimes sleeping in her car, Nakanishi came up with her own way of raising the money she needs to train and buy the two competition-level prosthetics she needs ( $14,500 each). She commissioned her own nude calendar, which she is selling through Amazon Japan and her own website.

From what I’ve seen (link NSFW), the photos (by Takao Ochi) are great: strong, striking, and showing a beautifully athletic woman, who also happens to have a prosthetic leg. She is certainly pleased with them:

I’m very happy that I was able to show Maya Nakanishi as I am.

However, some commentators point out that Nakanishi’s move should not be a cause for celebration:

What does it say about Japan that one of their medal contenders has to fund her own way to London? And what does it say about our world that we are only interested in her story when she shows some skin?

I do think it’s appalling that she and her sport are so under-funded that she had to do this: but I also applaud her for her desire to compete; for taking the initiative, making her own way, and raising awareness of her cause and her sport:

I want to convey the message that [a prosthetic limb] is something beautiful, not something you should be embarrassed at being seen with.

No matter how much disdain and bashing I will receive for the calendar, I want to pave the way for younger athletes to shine.

See her: Saturday 1st September at 9:41pm for Round 1 of the 100m; Wednesday 5th September at 11:12am for Round 1 of the 200m; and if anyone can navigate the Paralympic site schedule well enough to tell me when the Women’s T44 long jump is, that’d be great.

Other Women to Watch: Ireland’s Katie Taylor and Malaysia’s Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi.

Sources: The Asahi Shimbun, NBC Sports, NDTV Sports, and Osocio.org.

6 replies on “Women to Watch in London 2012: Maya Nakanishi”

Thank you! I think there’s been a concerted effort this time to highlight the Paralympics much more than they have been before (great for me when researching1). There was photo exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery in London last year, with loads of British Paralympic athletes featured, so it’s been happening for a while. In the UK Channel 4 is the official Paralympic channel so they are doing a lot to increase coverage as well, which is great. If  you’re savvy with Tunnelbear/proxies there are lots of features available on their site: http://paralympics.channel4.com/. With the longer lead-in time to the Paralympics compared to the Olympics I should get a chance to feature a good few Paralympic athletes, hopefully 50/50.

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