Youngest Paralympian swims for change in Tokyo

Sports Tokyo 2020

Teenage swimmer Husnah Kukundakwe says she wants to change attitudes towards people with disabilities in Uganda (Kazuhiro NOGI/AFP)
Teenage swimmer Husnah Kukundakwe says she wants to change attitudes towards people with disabilities in Uganda (Kazuhiro NOGI/AFP)

Tokyo (AFP)

by Andrew MCKIRDY, Katie FORSTER

The youngest Paralympian in Tokyo took to the pool on Thursday looking to change attitudes to disability, as powerlifting and equestrian events kicked off on the second day of competition.

In a reminder of the continuing risks posed by the pandemic, organisers said another two athletes had tested positive for the virus in the Paralympic Village, but insisted the Games would remain safe.

Australia lead the medal table with six golds after an action-packed first day that saw nine world records broken -- six in track cycling and three in swimming.

They are closely followed by China, which have won the most golds at every Paralympics since Athens 2004, but with 28 top medals up for grabs Thursday, plenty could change.

The Games’ youngest Paralympian, Ugandan swimmer Husnah Kukundakwe, aged just 14 competed on Thursday morning in the 100m breaststroke in the SB8 category.

Kukundakwe, who was born without her right forearm and also has an impairment to her left hand, did not make the final but said she felt she could “touch the clouds” after a personal best time.

She says she wants to change attitudes towards people with disabilities in Uganda, and give “these kids a chance.”

She is just months older than fellow teenage swimmer Miyuki Yamada, who became Japan’s youngest ever Paralympic medalist Wednesday as she bagged silver in the 100m backstroke S2, the host country’s first medal at the Games.

On the wheelchair basketball pitch, the United States men
On the wheelchair basketball pitch, the United States men’s team beat Germany 58-52 (Bob MARTIN/OIS/IOC/AFP)

Competitions are taking place mostly without spectators to minimise infection risks, and 15 new positive tests linked to the Paralympics were confirmed Thursday, bringing the total announced by organisers to 184.

Among the few in the stands on Wednesday were around 1,000 schoolchildren taking part in a programme that has attracted controversy in Japan over safety concerns.

Organisers defended the scheme on Thursday, saying social distancing and countermeasures were in place.

“A thousand kids yesterday came, loved what they saw, and hopefully now they will have a very different view when it comes to disability and that will help Japanese society in the long-run,” International Paralympic Committee spokesman Craig Spence told reporters.

Paralympic Village cases

Most of the cases at the Games are among staff and contractors living in Japan, which is facing a record Covid-19 wave, but Thursday’s cases included two athletes from overseas staying in the Paralympic Village.

Competitions are taking place mostly without spectators (Yasuyoshi CHIBA/AFP)
Competitions are taking place mostly without spectators (Yasuyoshi CHIBA/AFP)

Organisers did not give details of which teams the pair belong to, or whether they were linked to any other positive tests.

There have been 13 cases detected in the Paralympic Village so far, including five athletes.

Japan is facing a record wave of virus cases and on Wednesday the government said a virus state of emergency, which largely limits alcohol sales and bar and restaurant opening hours, would be expanded to eight more regions.

Two-time wheelchair rugby champions Australia face off against France on Thursday, hoping to wrest back their chances of extending their winning streak after a shock loss to Denmark on Wednesday in the high-impact sport.

Track cycling is among the medal events on the second day of competition (Thomas LOVELOCK/OIS/IOC/AFP)
Track cycling is among the medal events on the second day of competition (Thomas LOVELOCK/OIS/IOC/AFP)

And on the wheelchair basketball pitch, the United States men’s team beat Germany 58-52 while the women play Spain on Thursday afternoon, with both male and female US sides aiming to defend their golds from Rio 2016.

Later this week, Brazilian sprinter Petrucio Ferreira Dos Santos -- sometimes called the “Usain Bolt” of para athletics -- is hoping to become the fastest Paralympian in history.

He’ll compete on Friday in the men’s T47 100m, after winning gold at Rio.

The fastest athlete in Paralympic history is Ireland’s Jason Smyth, whose ultra-speedy time of 10.46 seconds secured gold in the T13 100m at London 2012.

© 2021 AFP

Paralympics Tokyo 2020 AFP