Japan’s largest-ever Paralympic delegation was introduced on Tuesday, just a week ahead of the opening of the event in Tokyo, with athletes and officials gearing up for their best performances.
Wheelchair tennis player Shingo Kunieda, the delegation’s captain, pledged to put “utmost efforts into competition with courage and determination” during a ceremony which some participants attended online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 464-member team is targeting a record 20 gold medals at the Tokyo Paralympics, hoping to continue the success and excitement created by the country’s Olympians, who won a record 27 golds at the recently closed sporting event.
Kunieda, a two-time Paralympic men’s singles champion, said he was moved by the performance of athletes at the Tokyo Olympics.
“I hope many children in Japan, regardless of having disabilities or not, can feel the infinite possibilities of humankind by watching para sports,” he said.
The Paralympics will open on Aug. 24 without spectators at all venues, excluding some students, because of a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in Tokyo and other parts of the country.
Japanese athletes from those in their teens to their 60s will compete in all 22 sports, including badminton and taekwondo — which are making their Paralympic debuts — until the games close on Sept. 5.
During the ceremony at a Tokyo hotel, a limited number of athletes and officials, including Chef de Mission Junichi Kawai, sat apart from each other as a precaution against the virus.
Japan’s two flagbearers, men’s table tennis player Koyo Iwabuchi and women’s triathlete Mami Tani, received the delegation flag.
Kawai, a former swimmer with visual impairment, said the athletes participating at the Paralympics have trained hard while facing difficulties posed by the pandemic.
“Now the stage has been prepared where you can all demonstrate your possibilities,” he said.
In a video message, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga expressed support for them, saying, “All of the athletes pushing their limits and overcoming barriers will move people around the world and encourage them.”
At the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics five years ago, Japan finished without a single gold, claiming 10 silver and 14 bronze medals. The country earned its record of 17 gold medals at the 1988 Seoul Games and 2004 Athens Games.
The Tokyo Paralympics will feature up to about 4,400 athletes from around the world.
The capital has been under a COVID-19 state of emergency since July 12. However, it has seen a steep rise in infections, with the figure nearly tripling from before the start of the Olympics on July 23.
The International Paralympic Committee and three Japanese organizing bodies made the unprecedented decision on Monday evening to ban spectators at all venues.
As an exception, students of local schools taking part in a government-backed educational program will be permitted to watch competitions in person.
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