Tokyo Paralympics: A 'different' Games but Paralympians still hope to shine

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Before the Games began, the Agitos symbol was placed on the Tokyo water surface

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

Tokyo Paralympics will get underway on Tuesday. Covid-19 cases are rising in Japan, and all parties acknowledge that there is still much to do.

These Games will be different from any previous editions, as they were delayed by one year due to the pandemic.

Organisers want high-level competition but they also want the Games play a major role in making Japan more inclusive.

Tokyo hosted the 1964 Paralympic Games. There were 375 athletes representing 21 countries. Tokyo was the first city to host two Paralympic Games.

Around 4,400 athletes representing 162 national Paralympic Committees will participate in 539 medal events over 22 sports.

All Paralympians will be eager for the opportunity to show the rest the world how they can perform on the most important stage of all, putting behind them the events of the last 18 months.

The opening ceremony will be held at 12:01 BST Tuesday, and the competition on Wednesday.

How did we get to this point?

The Paralympic Movement was in a strong position after London 2012, but Rio Paralympics required major budget cuts.

Tokyo was the ideal partner. There was a strong connection between Paralympic and Olympic stagings and a high demand for tickets.

The original "one year to go" celebrations in 2019 saw successful mass participation events, and they showed that there was a desire among the Japanese public for the Games to be supported.

The coronavirus pandemic, which caused a year-long delay and then a host protocol issues affecting everyone involved, shattered all plans.

All around the globe, athletes faced difficulties in their training and competition programs. Some had to protect for medical reasons.

Staging the Games

Someity, the Paralympic mascot, visits a Japanese school in 2019

Tokyo remains under emergency, and Covid-19 cases continue to increase in the surrounding areas.

As with the Olympics and Paralympics, there are strict protocols in place. These include daily testing of athletes, mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing, and mandatory daily testing.

Equipment such as wheelchairs should also be cleaned regularly.

Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, stated that he is confident that it will be safe Games. However, safe Games does not mean zero cases.

"We will have cases. However, how we manage and respond to positive cases and stop them spreading the virus will determine whether or not we succeed.

"I can understand the anger and frustration among the Japanese regarding the pandemic. But there is no correlation between it with the Olympics being here. I'm certain it will be the same with Paralympics.

"There are many other reasons why the number of cases is on the rise."

Coronavirus travel restrictions have made it difficult for athletes from the Pacific Island countries Samoa, Kiribati and Tonga to travel.

Their departure came just days after the two Paralympic Paralympic athletes from Afghanistan were forced to leave the Games due to the political situation in Afghanistan since the fall of the government and the return by the Taliban. As a gesture of solidarity, a representative from the Office of United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees will carry the flag of Afghanistan at the opening ceremony.

A six-strong Refugee team, including Abbas Karimi, an Afghan swimmer, and Alia Issa, a club thrower, will also be taking part in the Games.

For a practice match, members of the New Zealand wheelchair rugby team will be on court

What's new?

Para-sailing is gone and football seven-aside are in the Tokyo program. Para-badminton will be there, as well as Para-taekwondo and Para-taekwondo which will host 14 and six gold medal events, respectively.

Para-shooting and Para-table tennis have the most medal events of any Rio sport, as do four other sports: Para-canoeing, Para-shooting and Para-table fencing.

Para-athletics, and Para-swimming are the most popular sports for medals and athlete numbers. However, they have had fewer events in recent years than five years.

Both sports have added mixed relay events to their programs - the universal relay in Athletics features an athlete with visual impairment on one leg, and an amputee runner the second. The third leg is for an athlete with cerebral palsy, co-ordination impairment, or a wheelchair racer.

For S14 (learning disabilities) swimmers, swimming has now added a 4x100m relay.

What about the Great Britain team, though?

Tokyo's GB team includes 227 competitors - which includes pilots and guides for visually impaired competitors as well as competition partners - and will participate in 19 of 22 sports.

ParalympicsGB had promised the team that they would be best prepared for Games. They have worked hard to ensure that every obstacle has been overcome, despite the many challenges.

The GB team will have 100 female athletes, which is the closest to gender parity at a Summer Paralympics. 44% of the team, compared to 40% at Rio Games, are women.

With 144 Paralympians returning to the sport and 43 Paralympic champions, the team is full of experience.

Rio saw GB athletes win 147 medals and 64 golds across 15 sports - their highest haul since 1988 - and they were second in the overall medal table to China.

The Paralympic team has been awarded a medal range by UK Sport rather than an Olympic target, with theirs 100-140.

Who are the top GB athletes?

Sarah Storey is in the running to be Britain's most successful Paralympian during her eighth Paralympics. She arrives in Tokyo with 14 gold medals from swimming and cycling. Three more golds will allow her to surpass Mike Kenny's record (16), which she has held since 1988.

Storey, 43 years old, could become Great Britain's first Tokyo gold medallist when she defends her C5 individual pursuit title on Wednesday. She will then compete in two road races later in Tokyo.

Storey will defend the three Rio titles she won.

She is part of a strong GB Cycling Squad with a host medal opportunities both on the track as well as on the road. Jaco van Gass, a seven-time Paralympian, was injured while serving with the Parachute Regiment, Afghanistan, and has competed at Invictus Games and tandem pairs Lora Fachie, Corrine Hall, Neil Fachie, and Matt Rotherham.

Kadeena cox, the first GB athlete ever to win gold in both athletics and cycling at the Rio Games 1988, has made history.

Triathlete George Peasgood will join her in the dual-sports club and she will also be competing in road cycling events.

Lee Pearson, Natasha Baker, and Sophie Wells will be aiming to add to their 11 golds in equestrian.

Aled Davies, Hollie Arnold, Hollie Arnold, Hollie Arnold, Hannah Cockroft and Aled Davies will all be aiming for their Paralympic titles on the track.

Columba Blango, 400m runner, and Dan Pembroke, javelin thrower, will be making their debuts. David Weir (4-gold London 2012) is back from a disappointing Rio Games.

Ellie Simmonds returns to the pool for her fourth Games. However, Bethany Firth and Maisie Summers Newton will face a formidable challenge in the pool. Bethany Firth and Bethany Firth will try to overcome a shoulder injury, which could result in losing the three Rio titles she won.

What about global stars?

There will be many strong competitors, from the German "Blade jumper" Markus Rehm to American wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden to the Brazilian swimmer Daniel Dias, to wheelchair tennis home favorites Shingo Kunieda or Yui Kamiji.

Natalia Partyka, a Polish table tennis player, will be trying for her fifth title in succession, just weeks after she competed at the Olympic Games.

Bebe Vio, an Italian wheelchair fencer, was diagnosed with meningitis at age 11. She had both her forearms and both legs amputated. Husnah Kukundakwe, a 14-year-old Ugandan swimmer, will also be competing in the sport.

A trio of equestrian riders from Germany, Rosemary Gaffney (66), Ireland and Norway (60) will attempt to prove that age is not a barrier to Paralympic success.