The Paralympics began Tuesday in the same empty National Stadium — during the same pandemic — as the opening and closing ceremonies of the recently completed Tokyo Olympics.
Emperor Naruhito of Japan reignited the celebrations, this time with the theme “We Have Wings.” Douglas Emhoff, husband of US Vice President Kamala Harris, International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons, and International Olympic President Thomas Bach were among the few in attendance.
It was a circus-like opening with acrobats, clowns, vibrant music and fireworks atop the stadium to mark the start of the long parade of athletes.
The country flags of the 162 delegations present, including the refugee team, were shown during the opening ceremony. In addition, despite the delegation’s absence from Tokyo, an Afghan flag was carried by a volunteer. On Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, dancers perform at the National Stadium in Tokyo during the opening ceremony for the 2020 Paralympics.
Comparisons to the Olympics stop with the colorful jamboree, save for the logistical and medical barriers during the pandemic, and the hollowing out of almost everything else.
Tokyo and Paralympic organizers are under pressure from soaring new infections in the capital. About 40% of the Japanese population is fully vaccinated. But daily new cases in Tokyo have increased four to five times since the Olympics opened on July 23. Tokyo is under a state of emergency until Sept. 12, with the Paralympics ending Sept. 5.
Organizers on Tuesday also announced the first positive test for an athlete living in the Paralympic Village. They gave no name or details and said the athlete had been isolated.
The Paralympics are being held without fans, although organizers are planning to let some school children attend, going against the advice of much of the medical community.
Paralympics promoted a false sense of security that may have spread the virus.
Some medical experts say even if there is no direct link, the presence of the Olympics and Paralympics promoted a false sense of security and prompted people to let down their guard, which may have helped spread the virus.
The Paralympics are about athletic prowess. The origin of the word is from “parallel” — an event running alongside the Olympics.
Markus Rehm — known as the “Blade Jumper” — lost his right leg below the knee when he was 14 in a wakeboarding accident, but earlier this year he jumped 8.62 meters, a distance that would have won the last seven Olympics, including the Tokyo Games. Tokyo’s winning long jump was 8.41 meters.
“If you look around Japan, it’s very rare you see persons with disabilities on the street,” Spence added. “We’ve got to go from protecting people to empowering people and creating opportunities for people to flourish in society.”
Archer Matt Stutzman was born with no arms, just stumps at the shoulders. He holds a world record — for any archer, disabled or otherwise — for the longest, most accurate shot, hitting a target at 310 yards, or about 283 meters.
Wheelchair fencer Bebe Vivo contracted meningitis as a child and to save her life, doctors amputated both her forearms and both her legs at the knees.
“So many people told me that it was impossible to do fencing without any hands,” Vivo said in a recent interview. “So it was so important to me to demonstrate and show people that it doesn’t matter if you don’t have hands, or you don’t have legs or whatever. If you have a dream and you really want to achieve it, just go and take it.”Actors perform during the opening ceremony for the 2020 Paralympics at the National Stadium in Tokyo, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Stutzman and Vivo are both set to compete in Tokyo and have already won medals in previous games, superstars who told their stories last year in the Netflix documentary about the Paralympics called “Rising Phoenix.”
The rest of the 4,403 Paralympic athletes in Tokyo — a record number for any Paralympics — will be telling their stories until the closing ceremony.
“Since it’s the Paralympics and everybody else is disabled, I feel really comfortable with myself,” she said. “In Uganda, there are very few people who have disabilities who want to come out and be themselves.”Athletes from Japan Miki Matheson, Mineho Ozaki, Taiyou Imai, Erina Yuguchi, Kaori Icho, and Tskumi Asatani carry the national flag of Japan into the Olympic Stadium at the start of the Paralympic Opening Ceremony Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (Joe Toth for OIS via AP)
Paralympic organizers played a part last week in launching “WeThe15,” a human-rights campaign aimed at 1.2 billion people — 15% of the global population — with disabilities. They’ve also produced a 90-second video to promote the cause of social inclusion.
Shingo Katori, a member of boy band SMAP that had its roots in the 1980s, now works with Paralympic organizers. He acknowledged his early fears of working with people with disabilities.
Stutzman, known as the “Armless Archer,” has a disarming sense of humor — pardon the pun. He jokes about growing up wanting the be like former NBA star Michael Jordan.
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