The Paralympics has officially begun following the opening ceremony in Tokyo on Tuesday, with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sending their well-wishes to those representing Great Britain over the next fortnight.
Despite no fans in attendance – due to the coronavirus pandemic – the Olympic Stadium was a beacon of light to mark the start of the 2020 Games.
Even though they couldn’t make the trip, Prince William and Catherine Middleton tweeted a good luck message to the 227 athletes that are representing Team GB across 19 of the 22 Paralympic sports.
Their Kensington Royal Twitter account posted: ‘Wishing @ParalympicsGB and all the athletes from around the world the best of luck in this year’s #Paralympics.
‘We can’t wait to see the talent and skill displayed over the next two weeks #ImpossibleToIgnore.’
The Paralympic Games opening ceremony took place on Tuesday to mark the start of the event over the next fortnight
The spectacle was a sea of colour as Japan officially marked the start of the Games – with sports beginning on Wednesday
Ellie Simmonds (centre) and John Stubbs had the honour of being Great Britain’s flag bearers at the opening ceremony
The Afghanistan flag is paraded around the stadium as an act of solidarity after Afghan athletes pulled out of the Games due to the Taliban takeover
Performers in fancy dress enter during the colourful and vibrant opening ceremony held in Tokyo to a largely empty stadium
Great Britain are represented by 227 athletes competing across 19 of the 22 Paralympic sports at this Games in Tokyo
Fireworks illuminate the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony during the display in Tokyo on Tuesday
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (pictured at Wimbledon in July) sent their well-wishes to Team GB via Twitter
A swarm of athletes – including members of the Refugee Paralympic Team – did descend upon the venue though to enjoy the moment ahead of the 12-day Paralympics starting on Wednesday.
The atmosphere around the city had built up in the day too as the torch relay for the Paralympics concluded after 13 days around Tokyo, while the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s Blue Impulse aerobatic flight team made a commemorative flight over Tokyo on Tuesday – illuminating the skies in the Games’ colours of blue, red and green.
Swimmer Ellie Simmonds and archer John Stubbs had the honour of being selected as Great Britain’s flag bearers for the opening ceremony as they led their team-mates out in the Japanese capital.
Simmonds, 26, is Great Britain’s first female flag bearer at a summer Paralympics since fellow swimmer Maggie McEleny in 2000.
The opening ceremony included dancing from performers during a vibrant display in Tokyo on Tuesday
Japanese Emperor Naruhito opened the Games under the theme ‘We Have Wings’ and there was a dazzling display of dance and merriment
Spectators outside the Olympic Stadium take pictures as a firework display illuminates the nighttime sky
Athletes are spread across a multicoloured floor in the stadium during the extravagant opening ceremony in front of a largely empty stadium
The flags of the participating nations of the Games are displayed in the parade of athletes
South Korea’s team arrive in the stadium as they kick off the Games which have been delayed a year due to the Covid pandemic
It was a circus-like opening with acrobats, clowns, vibrant music and fireworks atop the stadium to mark the the start of the long parade of athletes
Speaking on Monday, Simmonds told of her immense pride. ‘I’m hugely honoured to carry the flag for the Paralympics GB team – on behalf of all the athletes, support staff and for the entire nation back home.
‘Just to be here in Tokyo is amazing but to carry the flag is the icing on the cake and I can’t wait for the competition to start.’
At the age of 56, Stubbs is the oldest athlete on the Paralympics GB team.
He said: ‘I felt incredibly emotional when I was told the news. For any elite athlete to go to the Games and be bestowed this honour is a privilege. Words can’t describe what it means to me.
‘It’s been a torrid year – unfortunately I lost my Dad in January. He was my biggest fan, and hopefully if he’s looking down on me, he’s there saying: ‘Do it for the Stubbs family John, you’ve earned it and you deserve it’. I know my family will be as proud as punch.’
Japanese Emperor Naruhito opened the Games under the theme ‘We Have Wings.’ Among the few on hand were Douglas Emhoff, husband of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons and International Olympic President Thomas Bach.
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (R) meets with US second gentleman Douglas Emhoff in Tokyo ahead of today’s ceremony
IPC president Andrew Parsons (pictured) said: ‘We thank our hosts for trusting we can deliver a safe Games for athletes and officials but also for the Japanese society. From the bottom of my heart, arigato Japan, arigato Tokyo’
Comparisons to the Olympics stop with the colorful jamboree, save for the logistical and medical barriers during the pandemic, and the hollowing out of almost everything else
The opening ceremony featured the national flags of the 162 delegations represented, which included the refugee team
The Paralympics are being held without fans, although organisers are planning to let some school children attend, going against the advice of much of the medical community
Parsons and Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Tokyo organizing committee, say the Paralympics can be held safely
It was a circus-like opening with acrobats, clowns, vibrant music and fireworks atop the stadium to mark the the start of the long parade of athletes.
The opening ceremony featured the national flags of the 162 delegations represented, which included the refugee team. In addition, the flag of Afghanistan was carried by a volunteer despite the delegation not being on hand in Tokyo.
Comparisons to the Olympics stop with the colorful jamboree, save for the logistical and medical barriers during the pandemic, and the hollowing out of almost everything else.
Tokyo and Paralympic organizers are under pressure from soaring new infections in the capital. About 40% of the Japanese population is fully vaccinated. But daily new cases in Tokyo have increased four to five times since the Olympics opened on July 23. Tokyo is under a state of emergency until Sept. 12, with the Paralympics ending Sept. 5.
Organisers on Tuesday also announced the first positive test for an athlete living in the Paralympic Village. They gave no name or details and said the athlete had been isolated.
A Mexican athlete proudly points to their badge during the opening ceremony held in front of a largely empty Olympics Stadium
Organisers on Tuesday also announced the first positive test for an athlete living in the Paralympic Village
Flag bearers Eleanor Simmonds and John Stubbs of Team Great Britain pose ahead of the parade which commence the Games
The Paralympics are being held without fans, although organisers are planning to let some school children attend, going against the advice of much of the medical community.
Parsons and Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Tokyo organizing committee, say the Paralympics can be held safely. Both have tried to distance the Paralympics and Olympics from Tokyo’s rising infection rate.
‘For the moment we don’t see the correlation between having the Paralympics in Tokyo with the rising number of cases in Tokyo and Japan,’ Parsons told The Associated Press.
Some medical experts say even if there is no direct link, the presence of the Olympics and Paralympics promoted a false sense of security and prompted people to let down their guard, which may have helped spread the virus.
The Paralympics are about athletic prowess. The origin of the word is from ‘parallel’ – an event running alongside the Olympics.
Markus Rehm – known as the ‘Blade Jumper’ – lost his right leg below the knee when he was 14 in a wakeboarding accident, but earlier this year he jumped 8.62 meters, a distance that would have won the last seven Olympics, including the Tokyo Games. Tokyo’s winning long jump was 8.41 meters.
Tokyo and Paralympic organizers are under pressure from soaring new infections in the capital with only 40 per cent fully vaccinated
Athlete’s Parade Assistants hold flags of the competing countries in front of the Protocol Stage during the Athlete’s Parade at the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games
The Paralympics are about athletic prowess, with the origin of the word from ‘parallel’ – an event running alongside the Olympics
‘The stigma attached to disability changes when you watch the sport,’ said Craig Spence, a spokesman for the International Paralympic Committee. ‘These games will change your attitude toward disability.
‘If you look around Japan, it’s very rare you see persons with disabilities on the street,’ Spence added. ‘We’ve got to go from protecting people to empowering people and creating opportunities for people to flourish in society.’
Archer Matt Stutzman was born with no arms, just stumps at the shoulders. He holds a world record – for any archer, disabled or otherwise – for the longest, most accurate shot, hitting a target at 310 yards, or about 283 meters.
Wheelchair fencer Bebe Vivo contracted meningitis as a child and to save her life, doctors amputated both her forearms and both her legs at the knees.
‘So many people told me that it was impossible to do fencing without any hands,’ Vivo said in a recent interview. ‘So it was so important to me to demonstrate and show people that it doesn’t matter if you don’t have hands, or you don’t have legs or whatever. If you have a dream and you really want to achieve it, just go and take it.’
Stutzman and Vivo are both set to compete in Tokyo and have already won medals in previous games, superstars who told their stories last year in the Netflix documentary about the Paralympics called ‘Rising Phoenix.’
Tokyo’s National Stadium was empty for the start of the Paralympics, continuing the pandemic measures that marked the Olympics
Daily new cases in Tokyo have increased four to five times since the Olympics opened on July 23
Tokyo is under a state of emergency until September 12, with the Paralympics ending September 5
The rest of the 4,403 Paralympic athletes in Tokyo – a record number for any Paralympics – will be telling their stories until the closing ceremony.
‘I feel like I’m meeting movie stars,’ said 14-year-old Ugandan swimmer Husnah Kukundakwe, who is competing for the first time.
She acknowledged being a self-conscious adolescent, even more so because of a congenital impairment that left her with no lower right arm, an her left hand slightly misshapen.
‘Since it’s the Paralympics and everybody else is disabled, I feel really comfortable with myself,’ she said. ‘In Uganda, there are very few people who have disabilities who want to come out and be themselves.’
Members of Team Iran make their way to the Paralympics opening ceremony on Tuesday
Part of the Refugee Paralympic Team pose for a selfie before making their way into the stadium
Paralympic organizers played a part last week in launching ‘WeThe15,’ a human-rights campaign aimed at 1.2 billion people – 15% of the global population – with disabilities. They’ve also produced a 90-second video to promote the cause of social inclusion.
Shingo Katori, a member of boy band SMAP that had its roots in the 1980s, now works with Paralympic organizers. He acknowledged his early fears of working with people with disabilities.
‘Frankly speaking, people in wheelchairs or people with artificial legs – I hadn’t had an opportunity to meet these people and I didn’t know how to communicate with them,’ he said. ‘But through Paralympic sports, such hesitation faded away.’
Stutzman, known as the ‘Armless Archer,’ has a disarming sense of humor – pardon the pun. He jokes about growing up wanting the be like former NBA star Michael Jordan.
‘I gave it up,’ he deadpans. ‘I wasn’t tall enough.’
To add to the aesthetics there was the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s Blue Impulse aerobatic flight team made a commemorative flight over Tokyo on Tuesday
Earlier in the day the torch relay for the Paralympics concluded after 13 days around Tokyo