A bittersweet final run in Sochi

Momoka Muraoka skies brilliantly down the challenging course, speeding toward the finish line for the Giant Slalom of the Para-Alpine Skiing in Sochi, Russia.

At the bottom of the slope, two-time Paralympic gold medalist Akira Kano, former Slalom champion Takeshi Suzuki and Japanese team captain Taiki Morii cheer on the team’s youngest member. Her senior colleagues have offered her advice on everything from her turning technique to adjusting her sit-ski. At the end of her run, Momoka smiles through her tears, overwhelmed to have such celebrated supporters.

Her debut at the highest level had been far from easy. Crushed by the pressure, she couldn't perform to her usual standard. In the first of the three categories, the Super Giant Slalom, she was disqualified for not passing through a gate. After then finishing ninth in the Slalom, the youngster was in despair.

"I was so tense I thought I might fall over in the final category, the Giant Slalom,” Momoka remembers. “But if I pulled out, my trip to the Paralympics would mean nothing. I wanted to take back something positive from the Games. That thought kept me going."

Momoka also found support from her teammates and family members who had come to cheer her on. Spirits lifted, she placed fifth in Giant Slalom. Although she could manage a smile at the end, her deeper frustration remained. Momoka vowed to use the experience for future competitions.

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