The first events of the Tokyo Paralympics were held on Wednesday, with the first medals awarded and one Japanese athlete making history as her country’s youngest to reach a podium.
At just 14 years old, swimmer Miyuki Yamada earned a silver in the women’s 100-meter backstroke S2 class, becoming the youngest Japanese Paralympic medalist ever.
It took a reigning Paralympic and world champion to beat her, however, with the young girl showing grit beyond her years in taking an early lead, but it was one she could not maintain.
“I’m so surprised in myself,” she said. “I want to say that I will dedicate this to everybody who has supported me along the way, but it’s actually my mom and my coach. They told me to have fun and I want them to know that I did.”
Takayuki Suzuki joined Yamada as a Japanese Tokyo Games medalist later in the evening, the 34-year-old winning his sixth Paralympic medal with a bronze in the men’s 50 breaststroke SB3 final.
Australia’s Paige Greco won bragging rights as the first athlete to claim a gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympics, the track cyclist taking the women’s 3,000-meter individual pursuit title at the Izu Velodrome in the C1-3 class for athletes with limb deficiencies.
Greco, a C3 rider, took more than a second off her own world record set in qualifying earlier in the day, crossing the finish line in 3 minutes, 50.815 seconds to beat China’s Wang Xiaomei in the gold medal race. Her early world record was some 8 seconds better than the previous best she set in 2019.
Japan’s Keiko Sugiura, a medal hope, finished fifth in qualifying, missing out on the bronze medal ride-off.
Australia made it two from two when Emily Petricola rode to the C4 gold in the same event before Sarah Dame Storey of Britain won her 10th Paralympic cycling gold since 2008 — to go with the five swimming golds she won from 1992 to 1996.
In the always exciting bash and crash of wheelchair rugby, Japan emerged 53-51 winners in a nail-biter against France. Only some stout late defending allowed the host nation to secure a small advantage on the scoreboard.
Unsurprisingly, Yukinobu Ike and Daisuke Ikezaki were the main weapons, scoring 20 and 13 tries, respectively.
Two-time defending gold medalist Australia were handed a loss by Denmark in the teams’ opener, Sebastian Frederiksen outgunning Australian star Ryley Batt 29 tries to 24 as the Danes took a one-point win.
Japan got off to a positive start in the goalball preliminaries, the men putting on a show of strength with a 13-4 beatdown of Algeria. Kazuya Kaneko was the star of the day, scoring seven of Japan’s goals from 30 throws.
Teams in goalball, a three-on-three team sport in which visually impaired athletes try to whip a jingling ball into the opposition’s net, are split into two groups. Brazil also won on Wednesday and sits above Japan in Group A.
In the women’s, Japan suffered an opening 7-1 defeat to Turkey.
Defending Paralympic women’s wheelchair basketball champions the United States suffered an early blow when the world champion Netherlands team handed them a shock 68-58 loss. Dutchwoman Bo Kramer was key with 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Later in the evening, 16 points from Chihiro Kitada allowed Japan to get off to a flying start when it wiped Australia off the floor 73-47.
“It was very important for us to win. We lost against Australia so many times, (so) it was a very important game,” said Mari Amimoto, who scored 13 points in the win.
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