Afghanistan’s athletes were in tears when they finally arrived at the Tokyo Paralympics, officials said, as Britain’s wheelchair rugby team won one of 63 golds up for grabs on Super Sunday.
Afghanistan’s Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli were evacuated to France last weekend from the Taliban-controlled country in a “major global operation,” the International Paralympic Committee said.
“The meeting at the athletes’ village was extremely emotional. There were lots of tears from everyone in the room,” said IPC spokesperson Craig Spence.
Spence said the Afghanistan flag appearing at Tuesday’s Opening Ceremony had been the “first step to keep the door open” to the athletes and their arrival was “a very strong message of hope to many others around the world.”
Khudadadi will compete in the women’s under-49kg K44 taekwondo on Thursday. Sprinter Rasouli will take part in the men’s T47 long jump on Tuesday having arrived too late for his favored T47 100m.
“As you can imagine after a very turbulent week, both athletes were exhausted following their flight last night,” added Spence.
Japan had its most successful day of the Games yet on Sunday, with medals from the pool and athletics doubling the host nation’s gold medal tally and taking it to four.
Naohide Yamaguchi won Japan’s first gold of the day at the Tokyo Aquatics Center, improving his own world record in the men’s SB14 100-meter breaststroke in 1 minute, 03.77 seconds, cutting 0.23 off his previous mark.
But he said the medals are not the only benefit of competing at the Games, citing the camaraderie as another dividend.
“As a competitor in the SB14 class, I have been able to interact with athletes with disabilities from around the world and share the different challenges we face,” he said. “I think that is the attraction.”
Later in the evening, wheelchair racer Tomoki Sato completed a personal Tokyo gold double, adding the 1,500 to the 400 T52 title he earned on Friday.
The 31-year-old led from start to finish, and even after sitting in Sato’s wake for the whole race, silver medalist Raymond Martin of the United States was unable to pass him.
Hirokazu Ueyonabaru of Japan won bronze to duplicate Friday’s 400 podium.
“I’m glad (the Paralympics) could be held in the midst of the coronavirus,” Ueyonabaru said. “It would be impossible to come this far without the help of medical workers. I will do everything I can to express my gratitude.”
Day 5 of the Games brought a first-ever wheelchair rugby gold for Great Britain, which beat the United States 54-49 in the final.
The Brits had never previously won a medal in the event, but a heroic effort edged out the Americans, who were looking to improve on the silver they claimed five years ago in Rio.
“What an amazing shift that was — that was one to remember,” said Britain’s Jim Roberts, who led the scoring with 24 tries. “I play to win every game I go into, so that’s what I wanted to come for.”
Japan beat Australia 60-52 to take the bronze, leaving the Aussies — who went into the competition looking for a third straight gold — going home empty handed.
After an emotional defeat to Britain in Saturday’s semifinal, Japan hit the Yoyogi National Stadium court with clear intent to make amends.
By focusing its defense on Australia’s main man Ryley Batt, Japan built an early lead and never trailed en route to a comfortable victory.
Daisuke Ikezaki again did most of the damage, scoring 23 tries, and captain Yukinobu Ike contributed 16, but they were just two of Japan’s seven try-scorers. Despite the attention he attracted, Batt still scored 27 and no other Australian scored more than seven.
“(The plan was to) work hard throughout the entire match and play aggressively on both offense and defense,” Ike said.
The day began with American Kendall Gretsch snatching triathlon gold right on the line in a dramatic finish after Australia’s Lauren Parker had led almost the entire race at Odaiba Marine Park Sunday.
Parker was hampered by backmarkers on the final lap, with the crucial seconds lost enabling Gretsch to reel her in to win by less than the length of her wheelchair.
“I couldn’t see her in front of me until halfway through that lap,” said Gretsch. “As soon as I saw her, I was like, ‘Hey! You just have to do it. You have to give everything you can’.”
There were 20 finals at the athletics stadium on Sunday and the first gold there went to world record holder Oksana Zubkovska of Ukraine in the T12 long jump with a leap of 5.54 meters as records began to tumble.
British great Hannah Cockroft smashed her own women’s T34 100-meter world record as she won a sixth Paralympic gold medal and third in a row in this event, with fellow Brit Kare Adenegan following her home for silver.
“I honestly didn’t know that time was within me,” said Cockroft.
And there was a stunning conclusion to the F40 men’s shot put final when Iraq’s defending Paralympic champion Garrah Tnaiash broke the world record with 11.15 meters on his final attempt to leapfrog the RPC’s Denis Gnezdilov into gold medal position.
But the Russian still had one attempt remaining and he astonishingly bettered Tnaiash’s mark by just 1 centimeter at 11.16 meters to snatch back the gold.
“It’s gorgeous,” said a jubilant Gnezdilov. “It’s the best mood possible. These are the Paralympic Games. I won them and with a world record on top of everything. This is the best thing to happen in my life.”
Wheelchair racing legend Tatyana McFadden claimed a silver in the women’s T54 800-meter final — the 19th Paralympic medal of her career.
In judo, Kazusa Ogawa won women’s B2 class bronze for Japan, taking a waza-ari victory over Olga Zabrodskaia of the Russian Paralympic Committee in the 70-kilogram category.
Ogawa won Japan’s second judo bronze of the games at Nippon Budokan after Yujiro Seto’s on Friday.
The five-a-side soccer tournament began with Japan beating perennial contender France 4-0. Ryo Kawamura and Tomonari Kuroda both netted twice for Japan.
Japan lines up against four-time reigning Paralympic champion Brazil on Monday, with a win against the South Americans likely booking a place in the semifinals. Brazil beat China 3-0 on Sunday.
“The first goal was quality, stealing the ball and scoring the way I’m best at,” Kuroda said. “The second was all about feel, just getting a good kick on the ball. Brazil is a formidable opponent next, but I want to put everything into the game.”
After a slow start, Japan’s women’s goalball team has now strung together two wins in a row, the most recent a 10-0 beat down of Egypt.
The male goalballers suffered their first defeat when 2016 bronze medalist Brazil scored eight times. Japan still holds the lead in their group though, sitting atop the South Americans on goal difference.
With a 59-54 loss to Germany, Japan’s women’s basketball team finished the group phase with a two-win, two-loss record but booked a quarterfinal against the Netherlands.
The men also fell, losing 79-61 to Spain but are good for a quarterfinal place anyway.
Japan got two clear-cut wins in wheelchair tennis’ morning session.
Yui Kamiji and Momoko Ohtani won their women’s doubles quarterfinal in straight sets and Takashi Sanada and Takuya Miki were equally untroubled in winning their men’s WT class singles second-round matches.
Shingo Kunieda remained on track for another Paralympic medal in men’s doubles along with Takashi Sanada.
The quad men’s doubles pairing of Mitsuteru Moroishi and Koji Sugeno lost their semifinal to Australia’s Dylan Alcott and Heath Davidson, and will play for bronze.
Japan’s sitting volleyball struggles continued. The men dropped their second straight, this time 3-0 to Egypt, and the women did the same, going down 3-0 to Brazil.
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