Afghan athlete Zakia Khudadadi, who escaped Kabul after the Taliban takeover, competed in taekwondo’s Paralympic debut in Tokyo on Thursday, as cycling queen Sarah Storey became Britain’s most successful Paralympian ever.
In the final days before Sunday’s closing ceremony, Morocco prepared to take on five-a-side Goliaths Brazil in the semifinals, and romance was in the air in the Olympic Stadium with a surprise postrace proposal.
Khudadadi, one of two Afghanistan team members evacuated from the country, fought in the Paralympics’ first-ever taekwondo match, a day after badminton made its long-awaited first appearance.
She looked stoic ahead of her bout against Uzbekistan’s Ziyodakhon Isakova, emerging from behind a curtain to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”
She lost the match but re-emerged for the evening repechage round, where she gave six-time world champion Viktoriia Marchuk of Ukraine a serious fright before bowing out 48-34.
“Of course I have worries and concerns about the situation in Afghanistan right now — I’m very glad that my opponent managed to come and compete with me,” said Marchuk.
Meanwhile, British cycling legend Storey returned to the Fuji International Speedway to claim her 17th Paralympic victory in the women’s C4-5 road race.
The indomitable 43-year-old’s golden hat-trick in Tokyo makes her the most decorated British Paralympian — dethroning swimmer Mike Kenny, who won 16 golds between 1976 to 1988.
“In that last descent I didn’t touch my brakes, I just went for it,” she said after the race, which went ahead in treacherous cool, wet and foggy conditions.
The victory left her “overwhelmed”, she told Channel 4 TV. “I feel like it is happening to someone else … but crossing the line first felt so good.”
On Thursday evening, Morocco’s five-a-side team takes on Brazil, who have never lost a match at the Paralympics and are targeting their fifth straight gold in Tokyo.
Morocco is the only African team competing in the sport, and defender Imad Berka has said they want to “honor the continent” with a place on the podium.
Japan added two swimming silver medals to its tally Thursday, with 14-year-old Miyuki Yamada taking her second of the Tokyo Paralympics and Takayuki Suzuki winning his fifth medal.
Yamada added a second place in the women’s S2 50-meter backstroke to the one she won in her 100-meter backstroke earlier in the Games.
In a carbon copy of her S2 100-meter backstroke, Yamada got off to a great start and built an early lead, but was gradually overhauled by Yip Pin Xiu of Singapore, the five-time gold medalist able to use her arms well to finish strong.
“I was able to swim with much more comfort in this race compared to the qualifying round,” Yamada said. “I was still nervous at my first Paralympic Games but I am super happy I managed to meet everyone’s expectations.”
Suzuki, who was expected to strongly challenge for gold in the men’s S4 50-meter freestyle, was never really in contention.
A slow start left him trailing Ami Omer Dadaon of Israel and, despite a midrace push, he ultimately could not overhaul the man who also beat him in the 200-meter freestyle.
“I slipped at the start,” Suzuki explained. “I thought I was done, but I decided to swim with everything I had and with determination (for the rest of the race). I am disappointed I could not win another gold, but I won medals in all my (individual) events and am glad that I was able to achieve that goal.”
Japan’s two great wheelchair tennis gold hopes progressed through their semifinals on Thursday.
Yui Kamiji overcame world No. 3 Aniek van Koot 6-2, 6-2 in a women’s WT singles semifinal, beating the player that ended her tournament at the 2012 and knocked her out of gold medal contention in 2016.
“We always face each other on tours, but in terms of the Paralympics, Aniek was the one player I couldn’t get past,” said Kamiji, who earned bronze in Rio and was beaten in the London Games quarterfinals.
Shingo Kunieda will have a great shot at his third Paralympic singles gold when he takes on the Netherlands’ Tom Egberink.
On Thursday, he beat Briton Gordon Reid 6-3, 6-2 to continue his campaign for his first singles gold since the London Games.
At the National Stadium, Japan’s Tomomi Tozawa and Kaede Maegawa finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the women’s T63 long jump.
Tozawa put in a best leap of 4.39 meters and Meagawa 4.23, some way off bronze medalist Elena Kratter of Switzerland, who jumped 5.01.
One day after claiming Japan’s first boccia gold, Hidetaka Sugimura was back on the courts at the Ariake Gymnastics Center in the BC1/BC2 team event.
Sugimura and friends were able to carry momentum through most of the day, taking an 8-2 win over Slovakia and a 5-4 triumph over Portugal. But South Korea put a dampener on proceedings, handing Japan its first defeat with a late 6-5 victory.
Japan’s team is looking to go one better than its result from Rio de Janeiro in 2016, hoping to win gold rather than silver.
Japan’s hopes of women’s goalball gold were dashed in an 8-5 semifinal loss to Turkey.
The game was a two-woman battle, but it was Turkey’s Sevda Altunoluk who prevailed, her eight goals bettering Japan’s key player Norika Hagiwara, who totaled five.
Meanwhile, Belgian wheelchair tennis player Joachim Gerard was rushed to hospital on Wednesday after he suddenly felt faint, the country’s Olympic Committee said.
The 32-year-old — who competed from Saturday to Monday — has regained consciousness and “first research is pointing towards a cardiac issue,” it said in a statement.
The Tokyo Paralympics have so far avoided any major coronavirus clusters, although 275 positive tests have been reported by organizers overall, mostly among Japan-based staff and contractors.
On Thursday, they confirmed 13 new cases, all but one of whom live in Japan, as the country battles a surge in infections driven by the highly infectious delta variant.
In the soggy Olympic Stadium on Thursday, Cape Verde’s Keula Nidreia Pereira Semedo failed to qualify for the women’s T11 200-meter semifinals — but there was a surprise consolation.
After the race, her guide runner Manuel Antonio Vaz da Veiga got down on one knee and proposed. Video of the magic moment showed both athletes beaming as Semedo accepted.
“Now I have an additional motivation to carry on after the Games, always with him by my side,” she said.
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