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スポーツ全般/ノンジャンル : 車いすテニスプレーヤー国枝、プロ宣言
投稿日時: 2009-04-13 23:05:25

 13日、車いすテニスプレーヤーの国枝慎吾選手が都内で会見を開き、日本人としては初めてとなるプロ転向の意思を固めたことを発表した。2007年にはシングルスで全豪、ジャパンオープン(09年より全仏オープン)、全英、全米と4大大会を制し、史上初となる年間グランドスラムを達成し、一躍その名を世界に知らしめた国枝。昨年の北京パラリンピックではシングルスは無敗で金メダル、ダブルスでは銅メダルを獲得した。

 これまで職員として勤務していた麗澤大学を昨年12月に退職し、今回テニストッププレーヤーのラファエル・ナダル(スペイン)やロジャー・フェデラー(スイス)とも契約しているマネジメント会社IMGとプロ契約を交わした。これに関して会見に同席した財団法人日本テニス協会渡辺康二専務理事は「IMGがナダルやフェデラーと同等の価値を見出したということ」と称えた。

 国枝は小学4年のときに脊髄腫瘍を発病、下半身麻痺となり、車いす生活を強いられた。母親にすすめられたことをきっかっけに車いすテニスを始めると、チェアワークとショットの精度を磨くことでメキメキと力をつけ、04年アテネパラリンピックではダブルスで金メダルを獲得。06年10月にはアジア人初の世界ランク1位に輝いた。そしてその時、彼はこう思ったという。
「人間は全力でやってみなければ、わからない」

 それ以降、北京パラリンピックで自分の納得できる成績を残した場合はプロへの転向を少しずつ考え始めるようになっていった。また、北京パラリンピックではダブルスで金メダルを獲得したアテネパラリンピックとは異なり、“障害者スポーツ”の枠を越え、“スポーツ”としてメディアから取り上げられ、評価されたこともプロ化への道につながった。

「これまでもプロ意識をもちながらプレーしてきたが、安定した収入を保障をされていることは、完全なプロではないという気持ちがあった」。“100年に一度の不況”と言われる現在、茨の道へ進むことにためらいもあったが、国枝にとってはこうした不安以上に自分の可能性にかけてみたいという気持ちの方が強かった。 

 とはいえ、プロとして生活していくことはそう容易いことではない。現在はスポンサーは前職の麗澤大学のみで、その他はまだ決まっていない。海外遠征費は年間300万〜400万円かかり、大会の賞金だけで賄うことは難しい。なぜ、安定した収入源を断ってでもプロへ転向したのか。国枝はその理由を次のように語った。
「厳しいことはわかっている。しかし、それを成し遂げられたら障害者スポーツ界に携わる方々に夢を与えられるのではないかと思っている。そのために自分がすべきことは、さらに自分の技術レベルを上げ、魅せながらなおかつ勝つこと。挑戦することに迷いは全くなかった」

 今後はメインスポンサーを探しながら、自らの技にさらに磨きをかける。障害者スポーツプロ化のパイオニアとして国枝の新たな挑戦が始まった。


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