Afghanistan’s athletes were in tears when they finally arrived at the Tokyo Paralympics, officials said, as Super Sunday — with 63 golds up for grabs — began in thrilling fashion in the triathlon.
Afghanistan’s Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli were evacuated to France last weekend from the Taliban-controlled country in a “major global operation”, the International Paralympic Committee said.
“The meeting at the athletes’ village was extremely emotional. There were lots of tears from everyone in the room,” said International Paralympic Committee (IPC) spokesperson Craig Spence.
Spence said the Afghanistan flag appearing at Tuesday’s Opening Ceremony had been the “first step to keep the door open” and their arrival was “a very strong message of hope to many others around the world”.
Khudadadi will compete in the women’s -49kg K44 taekwondo on Thursday. Sprinter Rasouli will go in the men’s T47 long jump on Tuesday having arrived too late for his favoured T47 100m.
“As you can imagine after a very turbulent week, both athletes were exhausted following their flight last night,” added Spence.
Day 5 of the Games began with American Kendall Gretsch snatching triathlon gold right on the line in a dramatic finish after Australia’s Lauren Parker had led almost the entire race at Odaiba Marine Park Sunday.
Parker was hampered by backmarkers on the final lap, with the crucial seconds lost enabling Gretsch to reel her in to win by less than the length of her wheelchair.
“I couldn’t see her in front of me until halfway through that lap,” said Gretsch.
“As soon as I saw her, I was like, ‘Hey! You just have to do it. You have to give everything you can’.”
Silver medallist Parker said she could not have done anything more: “I put my head down and went for it. I’m pretty proud of my efforts.”
Sixth gold for Cockroft
The wheelchair rugby final promises explosive action, pitting the might of the USA team against Great Britain, who broke Japanese hearts by beating the hosts and 2018 World Champions 55-49 in the semi-finals.
The USA beat Australia, the 2016 Rio gold medallists, 49-42 in Saturday’s other last-four encounter.
There are 20 finals at the athletics stadium on Sunday and the first gold there went to world record holder Oksana Zubkovska of Ukraine in the T12 long jump with a leap of 5.54 metres as records began to tumble
British great Hannah Cockroft smashed her own women’s T34 100m world record as she won a sixth Paralympics gold medal and third in a row in this event, with fellow Brit Kare Adenegan following her home for silver.
“I honestly didn’t know that time was within me,” said Cockroft.
And there was a stunning conclusion to the F40 men’s shot put final when Iraq’s defending Paralympic champion Garrah Tnaiash broke the world record with 11.15m on his final attempt to leapfrog the RPC’s Denis Gnezdilov into gold medal position.
But the Russian still had one attempt remaining and he astonishingly bettered Tnaiash’s mark by just one centimetre at 11.16m to snatch back the gold.
“It’s gorgeous,” said a jubilant Gnezdilov. “It’s the best mood possible. These are the Paralympic Games. I won them and with a world record on top of everything. This is the best thing to happen in my life.”
In the swimming pool, 13 more gold medals will be decided Sunday evening, with hosts Japan looking for success in the men’s 100m breaststroke SB14 through Naohide Yamaguchi, the world record holder.
Two athletes have tested positive for Covid in the Paralympic village, the IPC announced, among 11 new Games-related cases.