Paralympics: Japan-made sit-skis giving athletes high-speed edge

© Kyodo News

Dutch Paralympian Jeroen Kampschreur swears by his Japanese-made sit-ski, a trusty companion that helped him score his country's first Paralympic medal of any type in Alpine skiing at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

The 22-year-old, who has so far also taken home one silver in the men's sitting super combined at the Beijing Games, has used a sit-ski manufactured by Nissin Medical Industries Co. since he began competitive skiing at the age of 14.

"Nissin has been really good to me, and yes, I have tried another brand," he said at the Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre. "But I was like, yes, I am going well now, so I don't want to give up my winning strategy."

Kampschreur was born without shinbones due to a limb deficiency, resulting in the amputation of both legs above the knee. He won gold in the men's sitting super combined at his maiden Paralympic Games in 2018, and also became the first Dutch para Alpine skier to win a world title.

Kampschreur said that he prefers sit-skis made by Nissin over leading French maker Tessier's as they are "more playful."

"The other sit-skis, they steer you more and this one I have more control over, so it works well for parts that are a little harder or a little more steep," he said.

Sit-skis, also called chair-skis in Japan, consist of a molded seat mounted onto a metal chassis, an adjustable shock absorber as well as a conventional ski binding and a ski. A custom-made model with a seat tailored to the specific body shape of an athlete can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Han Sang Min, a Korean sit skier who claimed his country's first medal in para Alpine skiing when he won silver at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, is another world-class athlete that has stuck to Nissin for many years.

"(Nissin) sponsored my wheelchair for daily life and basketball, so I naturally used their sit-skis as well," he said, adding that he wanted to support a brand from an Asian country.

Han, whose impairment is a result of contracting polio at the age of 1, also won gold for South Korea in wheelchair basketball at the 2014 Asian Para Games in Incheon.

In Japan, the development of sit-skis began in the late 1970s and was first commercialized in 1980. Nissin, which is one of the largest manufacturers of wheelchairs in Japan, released its first sit-ski for Japanese Paralympians in time for the 1998 Nagano Games.

One of three categories in para Alpine skiing, along with standing and visually impaired, sit skiing is a discipline that has given Japan a gold medal in each of the past four Paralympics, with Beijing continuing that trend.

To keep the country's Paralympic gold run going, multiple Japanese companies have worked together to develop better sit skis for their athletes.

In 2015, Toyota Motor Corp. began collaborating with Nissin's sit-ski development team following a proposal by para Alpine all-rounder and multi-medalist Taiki Morii, who had joined the major automaker a year earlier.

Morii, who has claimed two bronze medals so far in Beijing, has since been involved in developing sit-skis that minimize air resistance through wind tunnel testing and other means.

By using state-of-the-art computer analysis software developed by Toyota, Nissin was able to create the "Hayabusa" in time for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. The improved model was 15 percent lighter, with the chassis three times more rigid than conventional models.

As athletes can reach speeds exceeding 100 kilometers per hour in events like the downhill, a shell covering the lower part of the athlete's body was also added for improved aerodynamic performance.

Nissin's sit-ski has further evolved into the "Hayabusa 2" for Beijing, with Morii and Alpine star Momoka Muraoka using the latest model.

"(Alpine skiing) is the fastest sport in the Paralympics. We want people to pay attention to their gear like in motorsports," Morii said.