Tokyo 2020 Paralympics briefing: the final countdown to the opening ceremony

Today in a nutshell: Tokyo is dotting the Is and crossing the Ts – well, the equivalent in the kanji and kana anyway – as it gets ready to host the Paralympics.

Tomorrow’s key moments: the Games will award 539 gold medals across 22 sports hosted at 21 venues, featuring over 4,500 athletes, and the opening ceremony begins it all at 8pm local time in Tokyo.

So, are you all set for another fortnight of brilliant sport? The action at the Olympics just about managed to eclipse fears over Covid, though as Justin McCurry has reported for us, rising case numbers have led to the feelgood factor evaporating as fearful Tokyo awaits the second instalment of its’ delayed 2020 Games.

International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons said at the weekend that “We are not going to be complacent when it comes to protecting the Paralympic and Japanese population. We would not be here if we did not think we could deliver these Games in a safe way.” Nevertheless, there have so far been at least three positive Covid-19 cases within the Paralympic village, but none of them competitors.

Coronavirus isn’t the only real-world event having an impact on the Paralympics though. The shocking developments in Afghanistan mean that their contingent of Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli will not be arriving. The IPC say that the Afghanistan flag will be present at the opening ceremony as a show of “solidarity”.

Former Paralympian Ade Adepitan wrote for us just the other day that he is feeling the excitement – but also spoke about the mental health pressures that affect those competing:

Well, we’re about to drive off together with them. The live sport begins at 9am (local time) sharp on Wednesday. I hope you’ll enjoy it all with us.

Asiya Mohammed will become the first female Kenyan rower to compete in the Paralympics after earning her ticket – we’ve got a photo gallery today of her training journey to get there.

Paul MacInnes is in Tokyo for us, and he’s spoken to Hannah Cockroft. One of the things that she raised is that, with Covid having disrupted training and competition for everyone, there’s a lot of unknowns going into the Games. She said: “Some countries haven’t even been able to compete much. I know Australia’s Robyn Lambird was only able to race in her state, which effectively meant she was the only competitor. You’re not going to compete well when you’re on your own. And I’ve no idea at all what the Americans have been doing … so that will be a nice surprise.”

Swimmer Ellie Simmonds and archer John Stubbs have been selected as Britain’s flag-bearers for tomorrow’s ceremony.

Ellie Cole and company are in action straight away on Wednesday as there are swimming medals to be had. Our Australian sport desk have written this Q&A of everything you need to know about following Australia at these Paralympics.

Seven-time Paralympian Danni Di Toro and dual wheelchair rugby gold medallist Ryley Batt will be on flag duty for Australia at the opening ceremony. “It’s incredibly humbling, especially when I think about the Paralympians before us who’ve had this honour,” Di Toro said. “To share it with Ryley, it’s a really special moment.”

On the global front, here’s our guide to 10 athletes from around the world who could make a mark at this Paralympics. Unfortunately, though, it isn’t just Afghanistan who will not be joining us. At the weekend four Pacific Island nations announced that Covid restrictions meant they wouldn’t be sending their teams: Samoa, Kiribati, Tonga and Vanuatu. They cited the high cost of meeting Covid travel quarantine requirements of heading to Japan via Australia.

Bayern Munich’s Champions League-winning Canadian defender Alphonso Davies sent a message of support to the Refugee Paralympic Team today, describing them as the “world’s most courageous sports team”. Davies was once a refugee, born to Liberian parents in a refugee camp in Ghana where he spent five years before moving to Canada. The Refugee Paralympic team will lead the athlete’s parade at the opening ceremony tomorrow, and its first ever female competitor, Alia Issa, will be one of the flag-bearers.

20-year-old Issa, who suffered brain damage after contracting smallpox, said “I never believed that I would be the first woman refugee Paralympian. I want to share with women around the world with disabilities: don’t stay at home. I want to be an example for all the refugees to follow their dreams.” She will compete in the F32 women’s club throw on Friday.

Wheelchair rugby player Chuck Aoki and paratriathlete Melissa Stockwell have won the vote among their peers to carry the US flag into the Tokyo stadium tomorrow. Stockwell said “The Paralympics are a showcase of what we can overcome with the power of the human body and the human spirit, and I’m just so proud of where my story has brought me.”

Between 1960 and 1980, the Paralympic programme included a sport known as dartchery, where athletes in wheelchairs fired arrows at a target arranged like a dartboard from a distance of thirty metres, with the scoring working like a 301 game of darts.

All events are listed here in local Tokyo time. Add an hour for Sydney, subtract eight hours for Manchester, 13 hours for New York and 16 hours for San Francisco.

🌟If you only watch one thing: 8pm Opening ceremony – to be honest, this wasn’t a hard pick. It is the only thing to watch on Tuesday. Unlike the Olympics there’s nothing at the Paralympics that gets going before the opening ceremony.

As ever with these things, the full details are closely under wraps, but the theme of the opening ceremony is “We Have Wings”, with organisers saying it is an attempt to raise awareness of the courage of Paralympians who are trying to spread their wings “no matter which way the wind blows”. 75 members of the public out of 5,500 who applied will be part of the ceremony. We’ll also see the campaign video for WeThe15 shown as part of it. This launched last week with the aspiration to be the biggest ever human rights movement representing the 15% of the world’s population with disabilities, which equates to 1.2 billion people.

Here’s how the emoji table stood at the end of the Rio Paralympics in 2016.

1 🇨🇳 China 🥇 107 🥈 81 🥉 51 total: 239
2 🇬🇧 Great Britain 🥇 64 🥈 39 🥉 44 total: 147
3 🇺🇦 Ukraine 🥇 41 🥈 37 🥉 39 total: 117
4 🇺🇸 USA 🥇 40 🥈 44 🥉 31 total: 115
5 🇦🇺 Australia 🥇 22 🥈 30 🥉 29 total: 81
6 🇩🇪 Germany 🥇 18 🥈 25 🥉 14 total: 57
7 🇳🇱 Netherlands 🥇 17 🥈 19 🥉 26 total: 62
8 🇧🇷 Brazil 🥇 14 🥈 29 🥉 29 total: 72
9 🇮🇹 Italy 🥇 10 🥈 14 🥉 15 total: 39
10 🇵🇱 Poland 🥇 9 🥈 18 🥉 12 total: 39

We can probably expect hosts Japan to make a stronger showing on home soil. We are going to be seeing Russian athletes competing under the “Russian Paralympic Committee” banner, or “Not Russia”, as we christened them for short in this newsletter for the Olympics.

Having been going through the schedule and doing my research for the next fortnight, I’ve been getting quietly excited about the prospect of the Paralympics. Coverage often tends to focus on the human interest stories, but I’m expecting some cracking sporting performances, with some athletes on the verge of setting some incredible personal success records. Don’t forget that you can get in touch with me at, and I’d love to hear about what you are looking forward to most – for me, the triathlons are something I’m particularly anticipating. I’ll see you at the same time tomorrow after we’ve all enjoyed the opening ceremony – until then, take care and stay safe.

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