The eyes of the world were on last month’s Olympic athletes, but 5,000 of the world’s best have yet to compete.
Swisher’s Jessica Heims explains what these Games mean
Starting Tuesday, Paralympic athletes from around the world will represent their home land at the Tokyo 2020 Games, and take their shot at the coveted bronze, silver and gold medals.
While both Games showcase the most elite athletes in each sport, there is one key difference that sets them apart: every Paralympic athlete competes with a disability.
Established in 1960, the Paralympic Games has served as the parallel to the Olympic Games for more than 60 years. The movement of disabled sports originated as a therapeutic exercise for World War II veterans, and has now become a staple of elite competition across 22 sports.
This year’s Paralympians will travel to Japan’s capital, the first city in Paralympic history to host the Games twice.
The basics of the Paralympics are the same as the Olympics — male and female athletes will compete in their respective sport and battle for a spot on the podium. Instead of separating the competition pool only by gender, Paralympic sports also have the option to separate athletes by disability. Some sports — including track and field, swimming, and triathlon — create classifications which allow athletes with similar disabilities to compete directly against one another. Each Paralympic athlete is sorted into a class based on the parameters of their disability.
For example, Aa wheelchair racer (classes 32-34, 51-54) and an arm amputee (classes 45-47) may compete in the 400-meter race, but they would not compete directly against one another for a medal.
The Paralympians representing Team USA this year are some of the greatest in history. National and world records across all sports and classifications have been challenged this year in a tight race to claim a spot on the Tokyo team. Some team members are returning for their sixth Paralympic Games, while others are pausing their high school classes to attend their first.
Age and experience are being tossed out the window as every athlete fights for their chance to dominate on the world stage.
The Paralympic athletes of 2021 have fought for years to get to this moment. They will stop at nothing to represent their country and their home. If there is one guarantee to be made this year, it is that Team USA’s Paralympians will show the world what they are made of.