The Việt Nam’s Paralympic team seen at the Tokyo Paralympics opening ceremony last night in Tokyo. Photo courtesy of the Tokyo Paralympics
TOKYO — Việt Nam’s 15-strong Paralympic delegation proudly joined athletes from all over the world for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo games last night.
Seven of our best athletes will compete in three disciplines during the sporting festival - swimming, weightlifting and athletics - where a husband and wife duo will fly the flag for Việt Nam in javelin and discus.
At the opening ceremony, javelin thrower Cao Ngọc Hùng, who is taking part in the games with his wife Nguyễn Thanh Hải, did just that – chosen as the flag bearer for the opening ceremony.
“It’s my dream to win gold medals,” Hùng told Việt Nam News in an exclusive interview last week. “It’s every athlete’s dream. It’s what we live for.”
At the Rio Games in Brazil back in 2016, our team walked away with one gold, one silver and two bronze medals. Despite the pandemic causing disruption in training and competition schedules, athletes are determined to top their successful tally this time around.
Powerlifter Lê Văn Công, who won our only gold last time, told Việt Nam News earlier this week: “My goal is to overcome my limitations. I aim to score better at the competition than in my training. And I hope I will be strong enough to bring home a medal.
“I am confident about my iron mentality. I have never been affected by pressure. The more pressure there is the better result I will get.”
The action for our athletes begins right away, with Trịnh Thị Bích Như competing in the Women's 50 metre freestyle at 10.24am today. Less than an hour later, Võ Thanh Tùng will compete in the men's 200 metre freestyle S5.
Late last night the opening ceremony began with a burst of fireworks as thousands of athletes who have endured a year-long pandemic postponement prepare to shatter stereotypes and world records.
The Games opened with Japan battling a record wave of virus cases, and the pandemic will hang over every aspect of the biggest parasports event on the international calendar.
Japan's Emperor Naruhito officially declared the Games open before a largely empty stadium as virus rules mean spectators are banned from almost all events.
Still, for a record 4,403 athletes from 162 teams, the Games are a long-awaited moment.
"It will be a big, big competition, the most important in the world," French judoka and flagbearer Sandrine Martinet said before the ceremony.
"It will be a real celebration and I will enjoy it and try to do my best."
The opening ceremony came with Tokyo and 12 other regions under a virus state of emergency that largely limits the opening hours of bars and restaurants and bans them from selling alcohol.
Experts have warned the measures do not seem to be working and tougher restrictions are needed, with some arguing that going ahead with the Games has undermined government messaging on the virus.
Paralympic athletes will be subject to the same rules as their Olympic counterparts, including daily testing, mandatory mask-wearing, and limits on their movement.
Almost all spectators will be barred from venues, though a school programme bringing children to some events is going ahead.
International Paralympic Committee chief Andrew Parsons said Monday that banning spectators was "the right decision".
"My message is turn on the TV and enjoy as much Paralympic Games as you can."
He has insisted the Games will be held safely but added that participants "must remain vigilant... We must not be complacent."
In a sign of the ongoing concerns, New Zealand's Paralympic team will not participate in the opening ceremony, though organisers said it was the only team opting out.
Olympic organisers have reported 547 cases linked to the Games, mostly among Japan-based employees or contractors, and even before the Paralympic opening ceremony, 161 cases were detected among participants.
This year's Paralympics will feature 22 sports, with badminton and taekwondo appearing for the first time.
Among the athletes to watch will be long-jumper Rehm, who is planning to "attack" the 8.62-metre world record he set in June.
Rehm, 33, has admitted he had struggled after the Games were postponed, wondering if he could maintain his form.
"My coach made it happen," he told reporters.
"My coach did everything to prepare me for this day, and I'm definitely going to try to attack this 8.62," he said.
The Games will also put the spotlight on Japan's record of disability inclusion, with activists saying more remains to be done despite some progress, especially in Tokyo, on accessibility.
"Tokyo is hosting the Paralympic Games for the second time, so this time round we need to bring change to society," Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto said on Monday.
"If we can achieve that, we can consider the Paralympics a success." — AFP/VNS