After being delayed for a year due to the pandemic, it was an absolute joy to watch the Paralympic Games this summer. I think anyone would agree the skills, determination, and success of our athletes this year was incredible. Taking place in Tokyo, running from the 24th August to the 5th September, Great Britain finished second, just behind China in the medal table. Bringing home over 120 medals, including 41 golds, Great Britain thrived throughout the events. The Paralympics are inspirational and always bring home a great sense of pride, but behind all the medals are the motivational stories of each individual athlete.
Before Tokyo 2020, Dame Sarah Storey was already the most successful female British Paralympian of all time. Born with an underdeveloped left hand, Storey started off her Paralympic career at the age of 14 as a swimmer. Since, Storey has competed in eight Games and in that time has won 28 medals. After the Games in Athens 2004, Storey made the decision to change from swimming to para-cycling after an ear infection, but this did not hinder her Paralympic success and in 2009 she was awarded an OBE.
At the 2020 Tokyo games Storey showcased once again the immense talent she possesses as she returned home with three more gold medals, bringing her total gold medals to 17 and making her the most successful British Paralympian. At 43, Storey is an inspiration to everyone and encapsulates the life changing opportunities that the Paralympic Games bring to the world. Competing in the Paralympic Games for the first time, Maisie Summers-Newton (19), also brought home a gold medal in para-swimming. Both experienced and inexperienced athletes were successful at the 2020 Games.
Outside of Great Britain, the 2020 Tokyo Games saw many stories of athletes who succeeded against all odds to compete at the Paralympics. The IPC (International Paralympic Committee) announced for the first time that an official Refugee Paralympian team, made up of six athletes, would be competing in the 2020 Games. Although not representing an official country, the Paralympic team highlighted the reality for refugees all over the world. In a time of struggle and conflict, once again the Paralympic Games presented its importance for representing and providing an opportunity for all people, regardless of their background. One of the six Paralympians on the refugee team included Parfait Hakizimana, and his story is both heartbreaking and moving.
Hakizimana was the first Paralympic athlete to travel directly from his refugee camp, the Mahama Refugee Camp in Rwanda, to Tokyo to compete in the Games. Fleeing his home country Burundi in a time of brutality and disturbance, he took a gunshot to his left arm leaving him permanently disabled. In his refugee camp, Hakizimana set up a taekwondo club, teaching others around him the sport that he loves. Although he did not take home any medals from the 2020 Games, his partaking in the Paralympics marks a historical moment for refugees, and after learning about his tragic and courageous past I’m sure I can speak for many people when I say I thoroughly hope to see him compete in future events. The team also included Alia Issa, the first and only female on the Refugee Paralympic Team.
In a time that has been so uncertain and unnerving, the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games brought hope and joy back to our TV screens this summer. With such touching stories from the Paralympians, there really is no other way to describe the Paralympics than incredible.