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Back on the medal trail: All you need to know about Paralympics

Source: China Daily Updated: 2021-08-24
 
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic flame burns at Tokyo State Guest House on Aug 20. It will remain lit until the Games close on Sept 5. REUTERS

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics open today, after a yearlong pandemic delay and under strict virus rules, including a ban on almost all spectators.

Here are some questions and answers about the Games and how the event will unfold in Tokyo:

Rich history

The first Paralympic Games took place in 1960 in Rome, featuring just 400 athletes from 23 countries.

The name Paralympics is intended to indicate an event happening in parallel, alongside the Olympics.

The Paralympics grew from the Stoke Mandeville Games, a tournament organized in Britain in 1948 for 16 male and female wheelchair athletes, some of them World War II veterans.

It was the idea of Sir Ludwig Guttmann, who oversaw the spinal injuries unit at a hospital in Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire that treated veterans.

New additions

A total of 22 sports will be contested at the Games, including new additions badminton and taekwondo.

Most sports are common to the Olympics and Paralympics, including athletics and swimming.

Some that feature in both Games involve modifications in their Paralympic form, such as wheelchair rugby. Two sports, boccia and goalball, are unique to the Paralympics.

Myriad of categories

Paralympians compete in different categories within a given sport based on their particular impairment.

The Paralympic Movement covers 10 impairment types that fall broadly into three categories: physical, vision and intellectual.

Some sports are open to athletes in all categories, while others are reserved for specific impairments.

Within each category, athletes are assessed to see whether they meet a minimum impairment level, to ensure a fair playing field-although there have been controversies over some placements in recent years.

In some sports like athletics, they are placed in a certain sports class, again pitting them against athletes with similar impairments to ensure equity. Athletes may be reclassified over their lifetime as their situation changes.

Behind closed doors

Like at the Olympics, most events will take place behind closed doors to minimize infection risks.

An exception is being made for a program to bring schoolchildren to events, but some areas have already said they won't take part because of the record high infections being reported in Japan.

Paralympians will face strict measures during their stay, and are allowed to move only between their accommodation, training sites and Games venues.

They will be tested daily, with confirmed positive cases put into isolation and unable to compete.

The Japan National Stadium is the main venue for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. AFP

Gold standard

Tokyo, which is the first city to host the Paralympics twice, will welcome 4,400 athletes from around 160 countries and territories.

Just a week before the Games, Afghanistan's team-made up of two athletes-announced they would not be able to take part because of the turmoil in the country.

The Games will feature a refugee team composed of six athletes, including Alia Issa, the first woman refugee Para athlete.

China has dominated the gold-medal table since Athens 2004, with Britain often in second place and the United States and Ukraine battling it out for third.

Helping hand

Assistants are used by some Paralympians with vision impairments.

For example, "guide runners "can be attached to an athlete by a strap on their arms or hands, but the athlete must finish ahead of the guide.

Some visually impaired cyclists also pair up with a guide who rides in front in a tandem and is known as a pilot.

And for visually impaired swimmers there are "tappers"-assistants who tap the athlete's head or body as they approach turns or the finish to keep them safe.

In some sports, like Para athletics track, there are multiple sport classes for athletes with different types of impairment competing in a single event.

For example, the Rio Games featured 16 men's and 14 women's 100 meter gold medals across a range of classes.

4,400 Paralympians

Around 4,400 competitors from nearly 160 countries and territories will be in Japan for the Paralympics, with 12,000 staff, officials and journalists also taking part in the 13-day event. Like their Olympic counterparts, Paralympians will be tested daily for COVID-19 and are barred from venturing beyond their accommodation or Games venues. Tokyo is the only city ever to host the Paralympic Games twice. At the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, 378 athletes competed in nine sports at six venues.

22 sports

From archery to wheelchair tennis, medals are up for grabs in 22 sports, with two new this year-taekwondo and badminton. For each of the 539 events, a complex classification system groups Paralympians depending on how their disability impacts their performance. While most of the sports have an Olympic equivalent, two do not: goalball, a team sport for athletes with visual impairments, and boccia, which is similar to boules.

Paralympians compete in categories that fall broadly under three types of impairments-physical, vision and intellectual. AFP

10 eligible impairments

Event categories are organized around 10 types of physical, vision and intellectual impairments recognised by the International Paralympic Committee. Eight of these are physical, such as impaired muscle power or involuntary movements caused by conditions like cerebral palsy. Also on the list are muscle tension, short stature and the partial or total absence of a limb from birth, or as a consequence of trauma or illness.

21 venues

Paralympic venues range from the Olympic Stadium to the historic Nippon Budokan and state-of-the-art new arenas like the Tokyo Aquatics Center. Most are in the capital and neighboring regions, while cycling events will take place at two venues near Mount Fuji in Shizuoka, southwest of Tokyo. Some Olympic venues will be used for different sports at the Paralympics, like the Ariake Gymnastics Center, which will host boccia.

4 billion viewers

Like the Olympics, the Paralympics will mostly be held in empty stadiums, with spectators banned over virus fears. But organizers hope to reach a massive TV audience worldwide. "We believe we will reach more than 4 billion people through broadcasting," IPC chief Andrew Parsons said. A record 4.1 billion cumulative viewers tuned in to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, up from the 3.8 billion who watched London 2012, the IPC says. This year, free-to-air coverage will be provided to 49 territories in sub-Saharan Africa, to grow the Games' global audience and tackle disability stigma.

5,000 medals

Around 5,000 gold, silver and bronze Paralympic medals have been produced for the Games, featuring the words "Tokyo 2020" written in Braille. Like the Olympic medals, they are made from recycled metals extracted from consumer electronic items donated by people in Japan. China has topped the gold-medal table at every Paralympic Games since Athens 2004.

AFP

 

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