Tokyo Paralympics: Team GB prepare to glow brightly once again

The mood in the Paralympics GB camp is “extraordinary” on the eve of the Tokyo 2020 Games, according to chef de mission Penny Briscoe.

ALMOST THERE: A general view during a Boccia training session ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre. Picture: Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

A British team made up of 227 athletes across 19 of the 22 Paralympic sports are gearing up to begin competition in Japan after a challenging build-up severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Briscoe said the athletes she has encountered cannot wait to get started.

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“I think it’s fair to say the mood in the camp is extraordinary. It’s a mix of excitement, anticipation and elation,” she said.

Swimmer Ellie Simmonds, pictured, and archer John Stubbs have been selected as Great Britain's flagbearers for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympics. Picture: Steven Paston/PA

“The athletes are just pinching themselves. One of the shooters who has just landed said ‘I didn’t believe it until I touched down in Tokyo’.

“I think we’re in good shape, and as a team we’re really looking forward to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.”

Sally Munday, the chief executive of the UK Sport agency which allocates funding to Olympic and Paralympic sports, backed the team to add to the feelgood factor generated by Team GB at the Olympic Games which ended earlier this month.

“We know that there’s a glow that will already be around the British team that are there now in Tokyo and that the Paralympian delegation is going to create even more extraordinary moments to engage us as they prepare to realise their own dreams at the Games,” she said.

Kadeena Cox is seen as one of Team Gb's big medal hopes at the Tokyo Paralympics. Picture: Naomi Baker/Getty Images

“We also know that the journey to the start line for a lot of our athletes has not been easy.

“Whilst managing their own personal and sporting challenges, they’ve had extended periods of shielding and lack of competition because of the pandemic.

“Paralympians are all too aware of the challenges that we’ve all dealt with in the last 18 months, but it has impacted them in the most extraordinary way. But we know that they are here and ready now to make us all proud.”

Unlike the Olympic squad, British Paralympians compete in the knowledge that funding for the Paris 2024 cycle has been secured, with the Government announcing a £232m package just over a week ago.

Munday said uncertainty over funding had the potential to be “an unnecessary distraction” to athletes and support staff who rely on it, but said in any case the athletes were focused on the “here and now” of Tokyo.

Briscoe said Covid-19 protocols among the British delegation were robust, with just one positive case so far confirmed.

A staff member working with the para-swimming team tested positive, which led to two athletes being identified as close contacts.

Briscoe said the athletes had been able to continue training but were taking all the isolation measures required.

“The process in place is very robust and there is 100 per cent adherence from Paralympics GB in terms of being part of the solution of a safe, secure, and successful Games here,” she said.

Swimming star Ellie Simmonds, meanwhile, believes reality television and the Black Lives Matter movement have each contributed to improving the image of the Paralympics.

Simmonds is preparing to lead her country into Tokyo 2020 after being chosen as one of Great Britain’s flagbearers for today’s opening ceremony alongside archer John Stubbs.

The 26-year-old, who has bone growth disorder achondroplasia, will compete at her fourth Games having already won eight medals, including five golds, in Beijing, London and Rio.

She feels the perception of disability has changed significantly during that time, citing mainstream exposure of Para athletes and the rise of protest campaigns demanding equality as factors.

“Even before Beijing, people thought I was going to special Olympics; the Paralympics and disabilities were still under wraps really,” said Simmonds, who was just 13 when she made her debut in China in 2008. “People didn’t really know what it was.

“Disabilities – and especially the Paralympics – were brought into height in London 2012 and the Paralympic movement and disability has just crept up and it’s just amazing to see.

“It’s not just achondroplasia or different disabilities in sport but it’s also now in other things: you had Jonnie (Peacock), you had Lauren (Steadman), you had Will (Bayley) in Strictly (Come Dancing), you had Hollie (Arnold) in I’m a Celebrity (Get Me Out of Here). There’s so many athletes out there with disabilities in reality TV and that’s so good for all different disabilities.

“And not just in those types of reality TV (programmes) but seeing it on TV, so kids growing up are more aware. Also we’ve seen the rise about it being OK to be different, the likes of Black Lives Matter, the acceptance of all that, the change, the protest and the awareness of there are so many different people out there.”