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Tokyo Paralympics kick off in blaze of colour

Julian Linden, August 25, 2021 8:19AM News Corp Australia Network

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Japanese athletes Karin Morisaki, Yui Kamiji and Shunsuke Uchida light the flame at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Picture: Getty Images media_cameraJapanese athletes Karin Morisaki, Yui Kamiji and Shunsuke Uchida light the flame at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Picture: Getty Images

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The Tokyo Paralympics opened in a blaze of colour, pageantry* and a reassuring message of hope to the world.

Only a trickle of the record 4403 athletes who will compete in Tokyo took part in the opening ceremony in an effort to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

In keeping with tradition, the Games were declared open by the Japanese Emperor Naruhito after a dazzling ceremony that followed the theme “We have wings”, symbolising the struggle and resilience of everyone with a disability.

Tokyo 2020 Paralympics - Opening Ceremony media_cameraThe opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympic Games was full of colour and hope. Picture: Getty Images

The refugee team was promoted to the front of the parade of nations, ahead of Greece, while the Afghanistan flag was carried by a volunteer because none of the country’s athletes made it to Japan after the Taliban seized control of their homeland last week.

Only three Australians – joint flag-bearers Danni Di Toro and Ryley Batt, plus chef de mission* Kate McLoughlin – marched in the parade, entering the stadium 30th in the order, which followed the Japanese alphabet. The host nation marched last.

While the ceremony included a moving commitment to human rights, the theme centred around the aspirations* of a little one-winged plane that wanted to fly but was unable to, until eventually being lifted by the winds of hope.

Tokyo 2020 Paralympics - Opening Ceremony media_cameraThe one-winged plane symbolised the struggle and resilience of athletes during the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games. Picture: Getty Images

OUR FLAG BEARERS

Australia’s team of a record 179 athletes were represented at the opening ceremony by joint flag-bearers Danni Di Toro and Ryley Batt.

Di Toro, who is at her seventh Paralympics, and Batt, a rugby wheelchair star who is at his fifth Games, are also the Australian team’s co-captains.

“Given what we’ve all gone through over the past 12 months, I could not pick more deserving, more supportive athletes who have been there for each and every one of this team,” said Australian chef de mission McLoughlin, who chose the flag-bearers and marched behind them at the opening ceremony.

Paralympics - Opening Ceremony media_cameraDanni Di Toro and Ryley Batt carry the Australian flag into the opening ceremony. Picture: Getty Images

“They do so much more than what normal captains would do … I think every member of this athlete cohort* knows how special these two are.”

Di Toro, a former world No.1 wheelchair tennis player, will compete in table tennis at the Tokyo Paralympics.

One of the most respected Paralympic athletes in Australia, she became a paraplegic* in 1988 when a wall collapsed on top of her during a school swimming carnival.

Now 46, she has already won two Paralympic medals – a silver in Sydney in 2000 and a bronze in Athens in 2004 – but said being selected to carry the flag was her greatest honour.

“When I first got told, to be honest, there were tears,” she said before Tuesday night’s opening ceremony.

“When people see and appreciate what you do, how much you care and how fiercely passionate you are, it’s really quite emotional and overwhelming.

“I feel like there are so many people in our team that this honour could have been bestowed* upon. That it’s Ryley and I is a bit mind blowing for me. I feel incredible gratitude.”

media_cameraRyley Batt and Danni Di Toro are popular choices as flag-bearers and team captains. Picture: AAP Image

Batt is also a hugely popular member of the 179-strong Australian Paralympic squad in Tokyo.

Born without legs, the 32-year-old is regarded as the best rugby wheelchair player in the world, having already won gold medals with the Steelers* at each of the past two Paralympics.

“It’s an extreme honour and I’m super proud to share this moment with Danni at a special Paralympic Games,” he said.

“The world’s going through a lot of negativity at the moment, but this is a hugely positive thing for Australia.

“Danni and I are just being ourselves and bringing this mob together.”

Paralympics - Opening Ceremony media_cameraColourful fireworks explode above the stadium during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Picture: Getty Images

Competition gets underway today, with 130,000 schoolchildren allowed into venues to watch events live after all spectators were banned from the Olympics.

Australia is expected to win up to 100 medals in total and finish in the top five countries in the world.

GLOSSARY

  • pageantry: impressive and colourful display
  • chef de mission: the person in charge of a national team at an international sports event
  • aspirations: hopes, ambitions
  • cohort: a group of people who have something in common
  • paraplegic: a person who cannot move their legs or lower body
  • bestowed: given or presented as an honour
  • Steelers: the name of Australia’s wheelchair rugby team

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. How many athletes will compete at the Tokyo Paralympics?
  2. How many athletes are in the Australian team?
  3. What event is Danni Di Toro competing in at the Tokyo Paralympics?
  4. How many Paralympic Games has Ryley Batt competed in?
  5. Who will be allowed into the venues to watch events live?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Acrostic poem
Create an acrostic poem about the Paralympics. Write the letters of the word Paralympics down the left side of your page and then write words, phrases or sentences beginning with each letter that describe the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Health and Physical Education; Media Arts

2. Extension
Make an audio recording of your poem, reading it with expression.

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Health and Physical Education; Media Arts

VCOP ACTIVITY
I’ve always wanted to know
If you had the opportunity to talk to Danni Di Toro or Ryley Batt and ask them five questions, what would you ask them?

Come up with five different questions. Challenge yourself to use different question stems (question opener words) to write your questions, and don’t forget to end with a question mark.

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