Paralympic Games 2020

ParalympicGames2020 TokyoBy Mary Pianta

The second largest Australian team in history has been competing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 33 sports between 23 July and 8 August. Great results have come in regular events and the debut events, and we have all enjoyed sharing in those emotional moments when athletes achieved their dreams. But, next Sunday is not the end!

The Paralympic Games will open on 24 August and finish 5 September. Despite no fans or officials from Australia to support them, the athletes are still excited about being in Tokyo.

All athletes have had to overcome a severely disrupted lead in to the Games, the year of the pandemic has presented many special challenges, and people with disabilities have been amongst the hardest hit. Great stories are coming out, showing the sacrifices and dedication of the athletes as they trained remotely.

Last week we saw Brendan Smith achieve his dream of a medal in the 400m individual medley event. Brendan explained that much of his training had been done in the family pool in the backyard. Now we have Col Pearse (17), from Bamawm Extension near Echuca, also dreaming of a medal in the 100m butterfly after training in the dam on the family property. He set up lane ropes, flags and turning walls at each end. Col’s right foot was amputated as a toddler following a lawnmower accident. At 14, he chose Melbourne for his studies and training, but COVID sent him back to milking cows, the gym in the garage and training in the dam.

Getting teams and squads together for training has been difficult; sometimes not happening until the athletes arrived at the training camps in Tokyo. It is the same situation for our Paralympians who have had to persist in their training and take on the extra challenges of remote training. Amid a year of uncertainties, I’m sure there were times when they felt like giving up. With the postponement of world sporting events, many athletes were left without a purpose until the rescheduling of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games gave them a goal.

Australian shooting Para-sport athlete, Libby Kosmala, at 74 was the oldest Paralympian in Rio. Now retired, Kosmala competed across 12 Paralympic Games, 1972-2016, winning 12 medals, nine gold and three silver, and a bronze in swimming. Libby’s story shows how committed our athletes can be to sport in their lives.

Athletes who had already qualified for the 2020 Paralympic Games remained qualified for the games taking place in 2021. Around 4,400 athletes from 160 nations will compete in 539 medal events in 22 sports at 21 venues. Changes have been made to the program since Rio; badminton and taekwondo are new sports; the number of medal events has increased in some sports but athletics and swimming have less events.

To increase opportunities for athletes with high support needs, the sport of boccia (not in the Olympics) has been allocated 116 athlete slots. Boccia’s roots date back to Ancient Greece, where players threw stones at a stone target. In Tokyo, the court is 12.5m x 6m and the target white ball is called the ‘jack’. Athletes in wheelchairs will need muscle control and accuracy as they throw leather balls towards the jack while keeping within the lines for a valid throw.

“Paralympic” is derived from the Greek “para” (beside) and Olympic, meaning that the Paralympics are parallel games to the Olympics and illustrates how the two movements exist side by side.

There are six broad Paralympics’ categories: amputee, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, wheelchair, vision impairment and ‘others’. Within these categories, classification is a unique cornerstone of the Paralympic Movement and performs two critical functions. It determines which Para-athletes are eligible to compete in a sport; it groups athletes into sport classes that aim to ensure that the impact of impairment is minimised, then sporting excellence determines which athlete or team is ultimately victorious.

ParalympicGames2021 Tokyo IconsThe Paralympics in Beijing 2008 acted as a trigger to build more accessible infrastructure across China. Elevators and ramps were installed in the Great Wall of China, while accessiblity was improved in the Forbidden City and the Imperial Palace. Who knows what might happen in Brisbane in 2032! Beyond these economic and physical benefits, the inspiration of the next generation of athletes has meant that China has been the country with the most gold medals at each Paralympic Games since then.

Changes have been made to medals for these Paralympic Games to help those with vision impairments to recognise medals by touch. A series of indentations have been included on the sides for the first time: one for Gold, two for Silver and three for Bronze. Braille letters also spell out “TOKYO 2020” on each medal’s face.
Knowing all the work that goes on in the preparation behind the scenes to make a successful time for all of our athletes helps us to appreciate the presentation of the Paralympic Games. Let us give these amazing Australians our support and keep them in our prayers.


Mary Pianta
Disability Contact Coordinator.
Diocese of Sandhurst.