The sporting stage in Tokyo is far from ending because the 2020 Paralympic Games have just kicked off in Japan, bringing us yet another couple of weeks of athletic excellence across a whole heap of events. Thank christ we collectively have something to obsessively watch or have on in the background again, we all sure as hell need this for the next little while in our assorted lockdowns.
Tokyo 2020 kicked off last night with the Opening Ceremony, where tennis star Danni Di Toro and wheelchair rugby captain Ryley Blatt (the country’s co-captains) carried the Australian flag into the arena on behalf of the 174 Aussie athletes who are all pushing for gold.
This year, Aussie athletes will be competing in 18 of the 22 sports at the Games – literally everything except 5-a-side football, powerlifting, sitting volleyball, and wheelchair fencing – giving us plenty of opportunities at time up on the winner’s podium.
Across those 18 sports, there’s heaps of interesting things to tune into, and there’s no faffing around either – we’re right into medal events from today (Wednesday). Track cycling, swimming, and wheelchair fencing all kick off their finals today, and Aussie athletes are vying for gold in the pool and at the velodrome across multiple events.
You’ll also be able to see our Paralympians competing in wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, table tennis, and goalball on Day 1.
I highly recommend you check out goalball, a sport specifically designed for athletes with a vision impairment. Players use ear-hand coordination to throw a ball embedded with bells into their opponents’ goal at the other end of the court, and everyone must wear a blindfold and shaded eyewear to create an even playing field.
The Australian women’s team – the Aussie Belles – are up against Israel in the preliminaries tonight at 8pm, if you want to tune on in.
Unsurprisingly, our biggest cohorts of athletes are in Japan for the swimming and athletics, with a total of 70 athletes across both codes. Champion swimmer Matthew Levy OAM is returning for his fifth Games, while Lakeisha Patterson, Rachael Watson, Ashleigh McConnell, and Tiffany Kane are looking to defend their gold titles in the pool.
It goes without saying we’ll be keenly watching Dylan Alcott at this year’s Games, who’s defending his gold title in the men’s singles in wheelchair tennis. His event kicks off on Day 3 (Thursday 26 August), and the gold medal matches go down on Day 11 (Saturday 4 September).
This is the fourth Paralympics where Dylan has represented Australia, first in wheelchair basketball before moving over to blitz it in the tennis competition at Rio in 2016.
Who else will we be keeping an eye on this year? In the swimming we’ve got Ellie Cole, who could make the first mark on our Paralympics medal tally on Wednesday with her efforts in the 400m freestyle. The Steelers in the wheelchair rugby are eyeing off their third straight gold in the mixed event, with Shae Graham competing as our first-ever woman to play for the Aussie team at a Paralympic level.
Jaryd Clifford is a strong competitor for the Australian Paralympics team in the athletics at Tokyo, with the 22-year-old distance runner taking to the track in the 1500m, 5000m, and the marathon.
He actually accidentally broke the marathon world record earlier this year by nearly two and a half minutes, in his first proper marathon run with training partner Michael Roeger. He said that he was just trying to “keep pace” with Michael, and then when the pair hit the 36km mark he realised he could finish out the full marathon length and just casually smashed the record in the process.
Over in the para-table tennis, Lina Lei is a new face in the Aussie team to watch. She’s already got five Paralympic gold medals under her belt, which she won while representing China, and nabbed her first world title at the age of 15. Now 33, she’s about to step back onto the world stage in the green and gold after she moved to Australia following the 2016 Rio Games.
The 2020 Tokyo Paralympics are on now until Sunday, September 5, and you can catch all of it over on Channel 7’s streaming coverage on 7Plus.