It’s been over a week since Paralympic athletes departed Tokyo, yet we’re still catching our collective breath after witnessing the electrifying and awe-inspiring performances of Paralympic athletes in this year’s Paralympic Games.
If you watched the games for the first time, or if you weren’t aware of the games’ fascinating history, read on…
The first Paralympic games were held on July 28, 1948, about 35 miles northwest of London. The games took place on the same day as the 1948 Olympics opened in London. According to the International Paralympic Committee, “the competition was first introduced by Sir Ludwig Guttmann, an English neurosurgeon, at his Stoke Mandeville Games for World War II veterans with spinal cord-related injuries. Later, other disability groups also established their own international sports organizations, which arranged various competitions.”
At the end of the 20th century, the Paralympic games, which had grown by leaps and bounds, became a biannual (summer and winter) event like the Olympics and took place every four years shortly after the Olympics games concluded.
Today’s Paralympics include athletes representing “six different disability groups—amputee, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, spinal cord injuries, intellectual disability, and ‘les autres’ (athletes whose disability does not fit into one of the other categories, including dwarfism),” says Brittanica.com.
These athletes compete in many of the same sports that are part of the Olympics. For example, the Paralympics include Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, and biathlon at the winter games and cycling, archery, and swimming for the summer games. Sports such as basketball, tennis and rugby are played in wheelchairs. Goalball, a sport for visually impaired athletes, and boccia, which is like bocce or lawn bowling, can only be seen at the Paralympics.
This year, the Paralympics included two new sports – Badminton and Taekwondo.
Highlights of this year’s games
China was the top winner of the 2020 games. For the fifth consecutive games, China came away with 96 gold medals and 207 total medals. The runner-up for the 2021 games was Great Britain, which came in second for the ninth consecutive time, winning 41 gold medals and total of 124 medals. In third place was the United States, the winner of 37 golds and 104 total medals. Finally, The Russian Paralympic Committee was in fourth place, with 36 golds and 118 total medals.
There are too many triumphs to mention in a single blog post, but here are some highlights of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
- The first gold medal of the 2020 Paralympics was won by Australian cyclist Paige Greco, 24, who lives with cerebral palsy. Greco won gold for the C1-3 3,000m individual pursuit, with a time of 3:50.815. She set a new world record!
- Swimmer Suzuki Takayuki of Japan won the host country’s first gold medal with a time of 1:21:58 in the men’s 100m freestyle – S4.
- Afghanistan-born Abbas Karimi, a swimmer on the Refugee Paralympic team, made the final of the men’s 50m butterfly S5 event. Karimi finished third with a time of 36.36 and qualified for the men’s 50m butterfly S5 final. Though he finished last, this was a significant accomplishment.
- Italian fencer Bebe Vio, who lost both legs below the knee and both arms below the elbows due to meningitis, defeated PR (People’s Republic of) China’s Zhou Jingjing for the second time. The 24-year-old athlete scored 15-8 in the gold medal match in individual foil. Vio also defeated Jingjing in 2016 in the Rio Games.
- PR China’s Zhao Shuai, 26, won his third consecutive Paralympic gold in the men’s table tennis singles 8. Shuai lost his arm when it was amputated after a car accident at 4 years old. Shuai beat Ukraine’s Viktor Didukh 3-1 in the final and he also won a gold medal in the men’s table tennis team event.
- Cyclist Oksana Masters, 32, won gold in the U.S. women’s cycling H4-5 Time Trial. Masters is also a champion cross-country skier, having won two golds at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Paralympic Games. Masters’ legs were injured by in-utero radiation poisoning from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident.
- Markus Rehm of Germany is known as the “Blade Jumper” because of his amazing long jump ability. At the 2021 games, Rehm won gold for his 8.18m jump. The winning jump is the third consecutive Paralympic victory for the 33-year-old athlete who uses a leg prosthesis and won gold in the 4x100m relay at Rio.
- Cyclist, Sarah Storey, 43, of Great Britain won her 17th gold medal after winning the cycling C4-5 road race with a time of 2:21:51. Storey was born with a nonfunctioning left hand. The 2021 games marked her eighth Paralympic Games and her fourth time competing as a cyclist. Previously Storey, whose first Paralympics was at age 14 in Barcelona, was a Paralympic swimmer. She switched to cycling after a severe ear infection kept her out of the pool.
- Lisa Gjessing of Denmark, already a four-time world champion and three-time European champion, became a Paralympic champion in taekwondo. Gjessing, 43, was originally part of Denmark’s able-bodied taekwondo squad but switched to para taekwondo in 2012 after she lost her left lower arm to cancer. This was the first time that taekwondo was included as a Paralympic sport and Gjessing won her gold with a final score of 32-14.
If you missed the games, you can still catch highlights here.