Tanni Grey-Thompson column: 'Tokyo can still be a step forward for Paralympics'

Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan on BBC Dates: 24 Aug-5 Sep Time in Tokyo: BST+8 Coverage: Follow Radio 5 Live or on the BBC Sport Website
Baroness Grey Thompson, who won 11 Paralympic gold Medals for Great Britain, and competed in every summer Games between 1988 and 2004, will be joining the Radio 5 Live team in Japan. She will also be writing for BBC Sport during these Games.

When I arrived in Tokyo, I was not sure what to expect. I was relieved that all of the testing procedures were negative and happy that the Paralympic Games were proceeding.

I knew there was a small part of me that thought that Tokyo might not be able to host a second Games. It was obvious that many of the athletes were flying to Japan, but it felt real once I received my accreditation.

It was not an easy journey for Paralympic athletes to reach the tops of London 2012 and arrive here.

There was a chance that the Games wouldn't happen before Rio 2016, with Brazil in an economically difficult situation. They turned the tide and the closing ceremony was described by Sir Philip Craven, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, as "the people’s Games".

The expectation surrounding the Tokyo Games was enormous before the pandemic. Three years ago, it was my belief that increased media coverage would make the Paralympics a major step forward.

Despite everything that has been done, I believe these Games will elevate the movement to a new level.

Although the decision to postpone was difficult to make (there were many layers to the decision-making process), athletes eventually had to step in and face more unknowns.

Competitors train to be athletes and have never experienced a lack in events or a prolonged block of training. Athletes know the dates of competition months or years in advance. While athletes are told to control what is within their control, there are many things that are beyond their control.

Athletes around the globe have had to develop their creativity during lockdown. They were not able to access high-tech training centres and needed to come up with new ways to do things.

Although the centralised facilities may have changed over time, we still had our own gym. Online coaching became the norm for younger athletes who didn't have access to that facility.

I also participated in some of the online sessions organized by the rowing team (not on a machine but with a stretchy band), and it was great to see the camaraderie between the various sports.

Erik Horrie, an Australian rower, trained in his shed during pandemic.

However, lab testing and time trials are not the same thing as being against others. With so little information available, particularly for younger Paralympians first-time, it is possible to see some surprises.

These Games will bring more pressure. The US Paralympians will receive $36,000 (approximately 26,400), for a gold medal. This is the same amount as their Olympic counterparts. This will make a huge difference in a world that still lacks sponsorship.

The Games have had a unique build-up and the Games themselves will be different.

Tokyo isn’t very decorated with Paralympic flags, it wasn’t for the Olympics either. But everything will change once the events begin. The athletes will have to cope with the fact that there aren't many people watching.

Last week, there was a glimmer or hope that schoolchildren might be allowed to view the event. However, that opportunity has now been shut down. It is unlikely that athletes will change their minds, considering the fact that there was no expectation of crowds for many months.

I've competed in front a large crowd (Sydney 2000), and very few people(Atlanta 1996), and I know which one I prefer.

Learn from the Olympic experience what it was like to win the gold medal.

The Olympics' empty stands were a stark reminder of the ongoing pandemic.

We saw fellow athletes supporting each other in the Olympics. It will be interesting to see, in the window of finishing their own events and leaving, if this is possible at the Paralympics.

Although spectators are usually very few, it is now a significant part of the sport because we can see who's there.

Ceremony at the Games' beginning and end will have a completely different atmosphere.

Many athletes won't be able to attend the opening ceremony. While I don't mind being on the same plane as 200 other athletes with identical kit bags, it is special to see everyone come through the airport and be welcomed home.

While no athlete can train for these events for many years, it is not unusual for athletes to feel a different way after previous Games.

We will see great sport, despite all of the restrictions. Para-taekwondo, Para-badminton, and Paraswimming, as the most popular sports in terms medals and competitors, will have a lot of work to do.

The event will receive more media coverage than ever before, and there will be many amazing moments. That is the essence of a major sporting event.