21:58 22 February 2017
FEATURE: Asian Games: Guest participation elevates Australian speed skater
By Morichika Nakamoto
OBIHIRO, Japan, Feb. 22, Kyodo
Joshua Capponi knew medals were never going to be the prize even before he took to the rink of the Asian Winter Games, but the Australian speed skater feels he has gained so much more from the opportunity.
Athletes for individual sports from Australia and New Zealand are taking part at these Asian Winter Games for the first time. But as "guests" they cannot win a medal even if they place in the top three in any event.
Such proviso mattered little to the 22-year-old, however, who jumped at the opportunity to take part when he was told the news in November.
"It was awesome, I was excited straight away. I didn't even have to think about it," he said Wednesday on his first reaction to the news. "And my federation was also happy I could come."
"There was a lot of motivation. I considered this the most important race of my season and I was building towards this for the last few months. I think it's an awesome preparation for the Olympics that are coming up next year, to race at such a large event where there's a bit of pressure and spectators."
After placing seventh in his first race at the meet in the men's 5,000 meters, he competed in his first official 10,000-meter race on Wednesday alongside South Korea's Lee Seung Hoon, who won gold at the distance at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
"It was tough but pretty special," he said after finishing fifth in the event. "I was quite intimidated because this was my first official 10K. But overall it was an honor to race him, I'm pretty satisfied with the race."
"It is a distance you don't get to do very often. It happens twice a year, once at the World Cup and once at the World Championships, and currently I am one second above the qualifying time. I never was able to do it but here I was able to, and I took the opportunity."
The two races at the meet provided him with some valuable lessons, just as the Olympic Council of Asia intended.
"I learned a lot so it's hard to pick one thing," he said. "In my 5K, I learned that normally I go for it a bit too hard. This week my aim was to relax but then I went to the other extreme and I was a bit too relaxed, and therefore the speed wasn't there."
"The 5K rhythm was more for the 10K. So today I went in with the same attitude to see where it would take me."
Capponi, who started as an inline speed skater at 4 years old and went to the world championships three times, said there are no national speed skating championships in Australia or regional meets for Oceania countries so skaters have to generally hone their abilities away from home.
"In our country, speed skating is a really small sport. There're currently two skaters that are skating internationally, and there are also others who are trying to break through," said Capponi, who has lived in the Netherlands for the past four years.
"The two racing in World Cups are based in the Netherlands, that's like the biggest skating nation. The New Zealanders are based in Salt Lake City as well as Germany and to do the sport at the high level, you need to move country."
Oceanian athletes may not have the chance to get on the podium at this meet, but Capponi says what the occasion provides is incomparable.
"It's awesome just to be here and compete with these guys. Like for me, the medal is not the important thing, it's the satisfaction of doing a good race and seeing where you place in the world, in Asia. The medal is just something that you receive for that."