ATHLETICS got underway at the Tokyo Paralympics on Friday with Brazil snagging the first track gold, as elsewhere Australia’s wheelchair rugby team battle to keep their gold medal hopes alive.
A total of 45 Paralympic golds are up for grabs on Friday, with a range of sports getting started, including archery, athletics and judo, which is being contested at Tokyo’s iconic Budokan venue.
The track and field events begin with the world’s fastest para sprinter ever, Brazilian Petrucio Ferreira dos Santos, gunning for the title of fastest Paralympian in history in the T47 100m.
Dos Santos has been called the Usain Bolt of para-athletics and clocked a world-record 10.43 seconds at the 2019 Dubai World Championships.
But ahead of Friday’s competition, the 24-year-old, whose arm was amputated below the elbow after a childhood accident, said he was not feeling the heat.
“When I get to events, I just have to be myself. Here it will be no different,” he said Thursday.
“I have to be Petruchio and do what I like to do: running around like a child.”
His compatriot Yeltsin Jacques became the first track gold medallist of the Tokyo Games, squeezing out Japan’s Kenya Karasawa to top the podium in the men’s 5,000m T11 final.
Jacques, who is visually impaired and runs with a guide, said his win was the culmination of five years of training.
“I have speed, I have energy. I’m naturally fast, it’s genetics,” added Jacques, who will also contest the 1,500m and marathon in the T11 category.
Fellow Brazilian Silvania Costa de Oliveira meanwhile took the first gold of the field events, successfully defending the title she won in Rio in the women’s T11 long jump.
– ‘Focusing on me’ –
In the pool meanwhile, swimmer Abbas Karimi has the chance to become the first Paralympic refugee team member ever to win a medal after qualifying Friday morning in the men’s S5 50m butterfly.
The Afghan-born 24-year-old, who was born with no arms, said his sights were set firmly on gold.
“We always train for a purpose, for a goal, and that’s the gold,” he said. “I’m going to go for the gold.”
Australia’s rugby wheelchair team will also be hoping to keep their medal hopes alive as they take on Japan.
The defending gold medallists suffered a shock defeat at the hands of Denmark earlier in the week, with team captain Ryley Batt admitting the loss had left his team “pretty embarrassed”.
But the Steelers took down France on Thursday in a 50-48 result that rekindled their hopes of a record third consecutive gold medal.
Their chances ride not only on the result of their match but also on the outcome of Denmark’s fixture against France in a tight group.
Batt pledged Thursday that the Aussies would “fight even harder” to secure a victory against the hosts.
Elsewhere, the archery competition begins with the spotlight on Iranian star Zahra Nemati, who won golds in both Rio and London, and American Matt Stutzman, who famously shoots with his feet.
The 38-year-old Stutzman was born without arms and has joked about the confusion he sparked when he first asked a shop to sell him a bow and arrow.
But his unique style has made him both famous and successful, with a silver medal at Rio under his belt.
“I don’t care what people say, I don’t watch the news, I don’t watch other people’s scores, I’m just focusing on me and what I can do,” he said recently.