The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games have officially come to a close, bringing an end to the Olympics in Tokyo.
It’s been a strange time to be an athlete. From bizarre living situations to protests in the home nation, and with the Games themselves almost not happening, the show has been a strange and incredible one from start to finish.
The Paralympics, like the Olympics before it, was conducted this year without the normal stadiums of cheering fans. Instead, the athletes rode on a wave of support across social media and live streaming across the 22 events.
Australia has a long and proud history at the Paralympic Games, dominating across a number of key sports since it began in 1960, and this year was no different. Australia’s 179-strong team managed to bring home a whopping 80 medals, just one shy of the 81 captured at Rio. That works out as 21 Golds, 28 Silvers, and 30 Bronze medals.
The theme of this year’s Games was “We Have Wings” and athletes from all countries soared to meet those lofty ambitions in Australia’s 16th Paralympic Games.
Here’s our roundup of highlights from the past 12 days.
Dylan Alcott and Niels Vink’s Emotional Hug
One of the countries biggest stars of the Games was multi-hyphenate champion, Dylan Alcott.
Alcott defeated the world number two Sam Schroder to cement his place as the greatest player in wheelchair tennis history.
The man is a titan of his sport but it was his approach to the games as he rose through the ranks that captivated audiences around the world.
Alcott faced off against 18-year-old Dutchman Niels Vink in the semifinals who has spoken previously of his respect for Alcott.
The pair played an incredible game, which Alcott described as “The best match I have ever been a part of”, and following his victory, Alcott wheeled across to his opponent’s side of the court to embrace him.
— 7Sport (@7Sport) August 31, 2021
Speaking to Channel 7 after his final victory, Alcott revealed that the Games “Makes us feel worthy, it makes us feel loved” before adding that he was “Gonna come home and drink 10,000 beers with everyone.”
Afghan Athletes Secret Escape from Kabul
The Games have been a huge lift of the spirits for those in lockdown across the country but while they were on, the world did not stop turning.
Across the globe, we watched in horror as the Taliban re-took Afghanistan after 20 years of conflict. Amidst the chaos of the evacuation was the tragic story of Afghanistan’s two Paralympic athletes who appeared to be trapped in the country as Kabul fell to the militants.
That was all reversed in a shocking twist as, four days into the Games, Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli arrived in Japan to compete.
This is Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli.
The two Afghanistan athletes were evacuated from their country to compete at the @Paralympics 🇦🇫
— C4 Paralympics (@C4Paralympics) September 2, 2021
As it turned out, a “major global operation” had been conducted in secret to facilitate their escape from the country via Paris
22-year-old Khudadadi fought in the Paralympics’ debut taekwondo bout, while 26-year-old Rasouli took part in the long jump after having missed the 100-metre sprint he had trained for.
The pair, who carried their flag at the Closing Ceremony, will now be processed as refugees in France and they are hopeful that their families will be able to join them soon.
Nicholas Hum Says Hello To New Daughter
Nicholas Hum, the 28-year-old long jumper who has captured the world with his previous sporting achievements appeared in his second Games in 2021 to score Bronze in the men’s F20 long jump final.
Hum has set numerous Australian and Oceanic records in the sport and his 7.12m jump looked like a sure second place win until Greece’s Athanasios Prodromou landed a 7.17m jump in round five.
During the Games, Hum’s daughter Holly was born, with the announcement being made during the commentary of the event.
Hum, who was aware, had to break the news to friends and family in his post even interview, telling his new daughter that “Daddy was just representing Australia”.
"Daddy was just representing Australia." 🇦🇺
— 7Sport (@7Sport) September 4, 2021
The athlete hails from a sporting family and he has also represented Australia in wheelchair basketball. His father has represented Victoria on the track and his grandmother worked in the Olympic village at Australia’s first Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956.
The Paralympic Proposal
Rain lashed the Games during several events last week, leaving stadiums and the few spectators decidedly soggy. That didn’t seem to dampen the romance in the arena, however, after Keula Nidreia Pereira Semedo of Cape Verde got a surprise proposal on the track after she failed to qualify for the 200m semifinals.
After the qualification round, the visually impaired sprinter’s guide runner Manuel Antonio Vaz da Veiga got down on one knee and popped the big question.
Footage of the moment quickly went viral on social media and showed both athletes overcome with joy as she accepted.
Keula Nidreia Pereira Semedo from Cape Verde got a surprise marriage proposal from guide after her Tokyo Paralympics 2020 Women's 200m T11 Heat 4 event.#YouDeserveIt #Paralympics pic.twitter.com/ZR6Lq7EwOb
— SABC Sport (@SPORTATSABC) September 2, 2021
Semedo later revealed that she had been considering retiring, but the proposal made her rethink.
“Now I have an additional motivation to carry on after the Games, always with him by my side.”
Lauren Parker’s Massive Triathlon Effort
During the last Paralympics in Rio, Lauren Parker was an Ironman athlete competing in regular events. That all changed when a freak cycling accident threw her at high speed into a guard rail, causing her legs to be amputated.
Not one to let a little thing like paraplegia stop her, Parker has trained for the Paralympic Games for the past four years.
Her sport is the triathlon, which is technically three sports in one and a gruelling challenge for any athlete.
She put in a stellar performance, leading the pack for nearly the entire race across the three events. It was only in the final seconds that American Kendall Gretsch came from behind and pipped her to the finish, leaving her in second place.
— Paralympic Games (@Paralympics) August 28, 2021
Still, a Paralympic Silver is a serious achievement and Parker has said that she’s proud of her efforts.
Expect to see more of her in Paris, LA, and even Brisbane.
Vanessa Low Breaks Three World Records in an Hour
Newly-minted Australian Vanessa Low blew Tokyo away with an unbelievable three world records smashed in a little over an hour.
The 31-year-old long jumper completed five jumps in her event, breaking her own records over and over in a stunning performance.
Image: Vanessa Low in the Women’s Long Jump T63 Final/Getty Images
With the Gold already well and truly hers in the women’s Class 63 event, she went on to jump a final distance of 5.28m, beating the runner up Martina Caironi of Italy by 14cms.
This was her first Paralympic Games as an Aussie after she gained citizenship through marriage to her husband, Paralympic sprinter Scott Reardon. She has previously competed in the Olympics under the German flag.
Reardon was in the stands and cheering her on as she won.
Will Martin Dominates in The Pool for Australia
One of Australia’s best sports in both the Paralympic and Olympic Games has always been swimming and Will Martin proved yet again that Aussies are natural water people.
The 20-year-old from Queensland had to re-learning to walk and talk after a childhood stroke and has ended up the undisputed king of Australia’s swim team at these Games.
Will Martin joins the greats! 💚💛
— 7Sport (@7Sport) September 2, 2021
He is the only Aussie athlete to win Gold in three Paralympic events in Tokyo, beginning with the 400m freestyle, then the 4x100m freestyle relay, and finally the 100m butterfly where he set a world record in the heats and beat that by a second in the finals.
Martin has said he has felt like he had to hide his disability in the past and took up swimming as a form of rehabilitation.
Madison de Rozario Gets Her Gold
One of Australia’s most recognisable Paralympians, Madison de Rozario, again showed us why she is number one this year.
While she’s won Commonwealth and world titles before, she’s always been eluded by the top spot on the podium.
However, after overcoming a tough 5th place finish in her first Tokyo event, the 800m wheelchair race proved to be the event that finally got her the gold.
Not satisfied with just the one Gold though, De Rozario showed us what it was all about in the original Olympic event of the marathon.
She kept pace with the chasing pack throughout the entirety of the race, overtaking American Susannah Scaroni 4kms from the end. She led the race into the stadium to finish and managed to keep just metres ahead of Swiss rival Manuela Schaer, beating her in the final sprint to finish just a second ahead as she crossed the line.
CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!
Madison de Rozario comes from the clouds to claim gold!!
She storms home for a Paralympic Record 1:38:11 🇦🇺 🥇
— 7Sport (@7Sport) September 4, 2021
“It’s the greatest thing I’ve done in my life, so I’ll take that,” she later told Channel Seven.
The Paralympic Closing Ceremony
After 12 days, the Paralympics have finally come to a finish and received a send-off in Tokyo Olympic Stadium worthy of the efforts of the athletes.
The by-now routine empty stadium was lit up with fireworks as images of all of the Paralympic and Olympic athletes were projected across Sydney Opera House.
Ellie Cole – one of Australia’s greatest Paralympic swimmers – ended her 17 medal career by carrying the flag into the stadium for the green and gold team while the rest of the team watched a live stream from the Olympic village.
We got video montages, drummers and musicians playing synth, dancers in crazy costumes, and a vision-impaired break-dancer surrounded by BMX riders.
After a thank you to the 24,000 volunteers who made the games possible, the Paralympic flag was lowered and the handover to Paris was completed.
Much like the opening ceremony, the Games finished with an emphasis on creating a new world of inclusion, diversity, one in which anything is possible. The Paralympics is now finished for another three years but they leave us with all the incredible memories of triumph we’ve seen over the past 12 days.