19/04/2024
Tokyo Paralympic Swimmers

The Australian Paralympics team is ready to take on Tokyo 2020. Source: Paralympics Australia

After last year's delay, the Tokyo Paralympics are set to get underway in under 100 days in a celebration of global resilience

After last year’s delay and disappointment, May 16 marked 100 days until the Tokyo Paralympics commences on August 24, with over 4,000 athletes set to participate in the games.

A testament to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), country boards, and the athlete’s resilience, these Paralympics go down as the most inspirational games in history, with COVID-19 presenting numerous challenges to be overcome.

Over two weeks, the athletes will take the centre stage across 22 sports after four years of preparation for their moment.

The postponement of the third largest global sporting event presented numerous challenges including cash flow issues and broadcasting payment delays.

While those issues are significant, let’s not forget the athletes who are at the heart of the games and devote four years preparing for the event.

From their perspective, the threat of COVID-19 would’ve caused great concern for those who qualified or were on the brink of selection from an athletic point of view, but also from a health outlook. It was well documented in the Coronavirus’s infancy, that people with disabilities, including Para-athletes, were more at risk of contracting COVID.

As the disease was still relatively new and had little information about it in 2020, and it would be a hazard and a serious risk to host the game as it ran amok. However, it has since been well established by WHO and the IPC that Para-athletes are no more at risk of contracting the virus than their Olympian counterparts, and each athlete is case by case.

In the true spirit of the games, the IPC proved anything is possible and found a way to get the Tokyo Paralympics up and running again after much disappointment, uncertainty, and concern.

Despite this hurdle, Para-Athletes worked tirelessly in lockdown to maintain fitness through setting up home gyms and consulting psychologists, coaches, and doctors online in hope that they would take the track, field, court, or pool soon.

Some even participated in international virtual events such as marathons where they were able to still compete, albeit not in person, to keep their fitness and competitive spirit alive.

One example was American Daniel Romanchuk’s virtual roller race which attracted over 60 races from 13 countries that competed in the comfort of their home.

However, for some athletes like swimmers, it was trickier for them to prepare when pools or certain equipment weren’t available to them, having to adapt or find another way.

Although COVID-19 poses a larger threat, this isn’t the first time the Paralympics, and by extension, the Olympics, have had to accommodate a biological hazard. During Rio 2016, the Zika Virus outbreak caused complications for some Para-athletes, and adjustments were made then.

Despite the concern being significantly smaller and more localised, Rio provided some precedent for global Paralympic committees in handling local outbreaks that could jeopardise Para-athletes’ safety.

Like the Zika Virus concerns, many boards and athletes are taking precautions against COVID-19 such as government-supported vaccine programs, mask-wearing, and quarantining.

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However, the conversation around protocols and procedures haven’t deterred the athletes’ focus on preparation.

Heading into his fourth campaign, Australian gold medalist Brenden Hall is prepared, and excited for Tokyo 2020 to get underway as they inch closer.

He stressed he and his teammates need to be adaptable to the expectations that come with the Olympics, as there are several differences to previous games.

Past experience in similar, but smaller events has prepared him for this moment.

“Coming through the Paralympic ranks, you go to a couple of World Championships, or PanPacs (Pan-Pacifics) here and there, you’re not always having that massive crowd environment,” he said.

“You’re kind of used to just getting up and getting the job done regardless of the environment you’re in.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how Tokyo manages to put on a fantastic games.”

The Tokyo Paralympics games are more than a sporting event. Rather, this year they are inspiration for all.

They are a celebration of disability visibility, inclusivity, and empowerment as we see athletes push themselves to the limit.

It is a celebration of achieving unachievable, controlling the uncontrollable and believing in the unbelievable.

Because who would’ve thought 12 months ago, we would be here today.

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