The Paralympics began on Tuesday in the same empty National Stadium — during the same pandemic — as the opening and closing ceremonies of the recently completed Tokyo Olympics.
Japanese Emperor Naruhito got it all started again, this time under the theme “We Have Wings.” Among the few on hand were Douglas Emhoff, husband of US Vice President Kamala Harris, International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons and International Olympic President Thomas Bach.
It was a circus-like opening with acrobats, clowns, vibrant music and fireworks atop the stadium to mark the the start of the long parade of athletes.
“I cannot believe we are finally here,” Parsons said in his opening remarks.
“Many doubted this day would happen. Many thought it impossible. But thanks to the efforts many, the most transformative sport event on earth is about to begin.”
The opening ceremony featured the national flags of the 162 delegations represented, which included the refugee team. In addition, the flag of Afghanistan was carried by a volunteer despite the delegation not being on hand in Tokyo.
Comparisons to the Olympics stop with the colourful jamboree, save for the logistical and medical barriers during the pandemic, and the hollowing out of almost everything else.
Tokyo and Paralympic organisers are under pressure from soaring new infections in the capital.
About 40 per cent 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 September 12, with the Paralympics ending September 5.
Organisers 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 organisers are planning to let some school children attend, going against the advice of much of the medical community.
Parsons and Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Tokyo organising committee, say the Paralympics can be held safely. Both have tried to distance the Paralympics and Olympics from Tokyo’s rising infection rate.
“For the moment we don’t see the correlation between having the Paralympics in Tokyo with the rising number of cases in Tokyo and Japan,” Parsons told The Associated Press.
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 8.62m, a distance that would have won the last seven Olympics, including the Tokyo Games. Tokyo’s winning long jump was 8.41m…
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