The Tokyo Paralympics are just around the corner and, after a one-year delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the athletes are bursting at the seams with excitement.
“I was waiting for this moment for so long,” German long jumper Markus Rehm said during a news conference at the Main Press Centre on Sunday — which was also his birthday. “I’ve been here a couple of times, but I was definitely waiting to come for the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
“Now we’re finally here and I’m super excited to be in the Paralympic village, I’m really looking forward to go inside the stadium for the first time at the opening ceremony and I can’t wait to try the sand pit.”
The Games will begin with Tuesday’s opening ceremony at the National Stadium and competition will start at various venues the following day.
These Paralympics, like the Olympics that came before them, will be staged in the shadow of the pandemic and amid a rising wave of new coronavirus infections in Tokyo. The city reported 5,074 new cases on Saturday, the fourth straight day with a figure over 5,000.
“We’re in a pandemic, but I’m just grateful that we are here,” para taekwondo athlete Shoko Ota said. “I’m just full of appreciation for everyone.”
Tokyo 2020 organizers have repeatedly stressed that they can deliver a safe and secure Games. While there were infections among those connected with the Tokyo Olympics, including some athletes, those Games were completed without any major disruptions.
“I feel extremely safe being here,” American archer Matt Stutzman said. “If I didn’t feel safe being here, I wouldn’t be here. Japan and Tokyo and everybody else involved has done an amazing job with security to make us feel safe and all the rules that have been put in place.”
The Paralympics are scheduled to run from August 24 to Sept. 5 and will feature approximately 4,400 athletes competing in 539 events across 22 sports.
The Games were delayed, along with the 2020 Olympics, last March as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe and caused the cancellation of numerous sporting events.
The uncertainty about whether or not they would even take place is gone and has been replaced by anticipation.
“I got to go on the archery field and shoot today and actually shoot an arrow,” Stutzman said. “(That) tells me that we’re here. It’s amazing, we’re doing it and I can’t be any more happier. I’m trying to contain my excitement, because it’s going on and I get to be around so many amazing athletes all over again.
“It’s been been five years since the last Games. So my excitement is through the roof.”
These Games will be the first taste of the Paralympics for Ugandan swimmer Husnah Kukundakwe, who at 14 is one of the youngest Paralympians.
“I’m really, really, excited, Kukundakwe said. “I even told my mom that I don’t care if I get a medal or not, if I get to step into the Paralympic Village, that’s enough for me.”
The environment has already had a positive impact on the young swimmer.
“Since it’s the Paralympics, (and) everyone else is disabled, I was really, really comfortable with myself, since in Uganda there are very few people with disabilities who want to come out and just be themselves. So around them (other Paralympians) I was very comfortable.”
In an interview with Kyodo News on Friday, International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parson said these Games are the “most important Paralympics in history because the pandemic has disproportionately affected persons with disabilities.”
Everything that has happened in the run-up to the 2020 Games, has also given them a special meaning to some of the athletes.
“Obviously for me, my favorite is London, my very first games and I won a silver there,” Stutzman said. “But coming into this one, because of the postponement, I’m actually feeling more excitement about this Games than I have in a long time.
“Because this is kind of one of the first times that as a world we get to come together. Even though we’ve all been through the pandemic, we all still get to hang out, we all still get to do what we love, which is sport, and that’s something that’s super special that you never really got at the other games.”
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