Medal rush as Tokyo Paralympics enters home straight

Paralympians battled for the last medals in swimming and cycling on Friday, while Turkey’s women defended their goalball title as the Tokyo Games headed into their final days.

A whopping 55 gold medals were up for grabs on day 10 of the competition, including the men’s and women’s finals in goalball — one of the few Paralympic sports without an Olympic equivalent.

Women’s champions Turkey beat the United States 9-2, ending the comeback queens’ run of second-half victories. Brazil were set to take on China in the men’s final.

In swimming, there were 16 finals on the last day of competition, and US Paralympic legend Jessica Long added another medal to her bulging collection.

She won the women’s S8 100m butterfly to clinch her 29th Paralympic medal — the same number as her age, and more than Michael Phelps’ 28 Olympic medals.

Russian silver medallist Viktoriia Ischchiulova, 16, said Long was “so cool” and “an idol for me”.

“I try to measure up to her, but not to how many medals she has won — I want to win even more — but more to her technique, how she acts before the race, her endurance and overall, how she is as a person.”

At the Olympic Stadium, Pakistan’s team won its first ever Paralympic gold.

“It is great to make history for my country again,” said F37 men’s discus thrower Haider Ali.

“This gold will be very important for para sport in my country.”

The 36-year-old is also responsible for Pakistan’s only other two Paralympic medals — silver at Beijing 2008, and bronze at Rio 2016.

Meanwhile, Niels Vink of the Netherlands won bronze in wheelchair tennis quad singles, beating Japan’s Koji Sugeno 6-1, 6-4.

Eighteen-year-old Vink, who set his sights on becoming a Paralympian when he visited the 2012 London Games with his mother, was the tournament’s youngest player.

“My best experience ever,” said Vink, who also won doubles gold with partner Sam Schroder.

“To go home with two medals from my first Paralympics, it’s insane.”

– ‘North-south divide’ –

Curtis McGrath, an Australian canoeist who lost his legs in Afghanistan, told AFP he had no regrets about the time he served there, after winning a second Paralympics gold.

“I was searching for improvised explosive devices, clearing the way for school buses,” said McGrath, whose life changed when he stepped on an IED.

“I’m pretty content with my contribution to the country,” he added.

The 33-year-old powered to victory through the wind and rain on Friday in the men’s KL2 canoe sprint.

But he said he had also been closely following news about the country, where the Taliban swept back into power last month.

“It’s a tragic situation. My heart goes out to the people of Afghanistan,” he said.

New Paralympic events badminton and taekwondo continued a day after Peru’s Leonor Espinoza Carranza won the martial art’s inaugural gold in the women’s K44 -49kg.

Her victory means 83 countries have won at least one medal at the Tokyo Games, equalling the record from Rio 2016.

International Paralympic Committee spokesman Craig Spence said the “strength in depth is certainly increasing” in para sports, but admitted there was “still work to do”.

“If you look at the medals table, there’s a north-south divide where you’ve got all the rich nations towards the top and those smaller nations who are less developed at the bottom, and that comes down to assistive technology,” he said.

“We want to work with governments around the world to make assistive technologies more affordable for all.”

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