Tokyo prepares to say farewell to 'most important' Paralympics

Tokyo prepared to bid a spectacular farewell to the Paralympics on Sunday, as organisers hailed the pandemic-delayed Games as the “most important edition” ever.

Fifteen gold medals were awarded on the final day of action, bringing the curtain down on a competition which saw a record 86 teams win medals and 62 claim at least one gold.

China finished on top of the medal table with 207, including 96 golds, followed by Britain, the United States and the Russian team.

With the sporting action over, attention turned towards the closing ceremony at the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium, where the Games opened 12 days earlier with howling guitars and neon-streaked performers.

A total of 163 delegations — one fewer than the London 2012 record — were set to be represented, although not all teams planned to attend in person.

International Paralympic Committee chief Andrew Parsons said the high turn-out in Tokyo was proof that “the Paralympic movement is stronger than ever before”.

“I don’t have any doubts that this was the most important edition of the Paralympic Games, because of the pandemic, because we gave a voice to 1.2 billion persons with disability,” he said.

The athletes competing in Tokyo included two from Afghanistan, who made a dramatic arrival with the Games already in progress after being evacuated from Kabul.

IPC spokesman Craig Spence said officials had offered taekwondo athlete Zakia Khudadadi and sprinter Hossain Rasouli, who competed in long jump, the chance to carry Afghanistan’s flag into the stadium.He

He stressed it would be their decision, and neither had been listed as flag-bearers by Sunday afternoon.

At the opening ceremony, the Afghan flag featured in symbolic fashion, carried by a Japanese volunteer.

– ‘Silver bullet’ –

The day’s sporting action began with the early morning marathon events, with Swiss wheelchair master Marcel Hug defending his T54 crown.

“Silver bullet” Hug opened up an early gap on the field, and moved away from silver medallist Zhang Yong over the last two uphill kilometres.

“I don’t know how to feel. I’m just tired. Empty,” said Hug, who won the sixth Paralympic gold of his career in a time of 1hr 24min 2sec.

In the women’s T54 marathon, Australian Madison de Rozario clung on to finish ahead of Swiss great Manuela Schaer, winning the gold by just one second.

“That was the longest 500 metres of my life,” de Rozario told reporters after finishing in a Paralympic record of 1:38.11.

“That finish line couldn’t have come quick enough.”

Organisers had urged local residents to stay home and watch the action on TV, but sweet shop owner Atsushi Nishimura told AFP in Tokyo’s Asakusa district that he was glad he saw it live.

“We could have enjoyed the Olympics and Paralympics differently if they weren’t during a pandemic, but I think it was good for us that we could host the events,” he said.

Elsewhere, the United States beat China 3-1 to take gold in women’s sitting volleyball, with the two teams meeting in the final for the fourth straight Games.

The Americans had ended China’s run of three consecutive golds five years ago in Rio, and they got the upper hand again after establishing an early two-set lead.

“This Games was about focusing on every single minor detail,” said American Kathryn Holloway.

“We were also very anxious every day. Every single one of us had nerves, for every single match.”

The US also claimed gold in men’s wheelchair basketball, beating Japan 64-60 after a fourth-quarter comeback.

In shooting, Slovakian Veronika Vadovicova won the mixed 50m rifle prone SH1 final, edging out Sweden’s Anna Normann and Spain’s Juan Antonio Saavedra Reinaldo.

Badminton, which was making its Paralympic debut in Tokyo, finished with seven gold medals awarded, with Japan and China dominating on the final day.

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