Tokyo Paralympic Games: Australia’s Paige Greco wins first gold as Japan battles rise in Covid

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Greco crossed the finish line first in the women’s 3,000-meter C1-3 individual pursuit at the Izu velodrome ahead of silver medalist Xiaomei Wang of China. Germany’s Denise Schindler won bronze.

Among the dozens of medalist events on Wednesday, 16 gold medals are up for grabs in swimming.

Speaking after qualifying for the men’s 400-meter freestyle final on Wednesday afternoon in Japan, Australian swimmer Alexander Tuckfield said stepping into the pool after the long delay made him feel like he had “a weight lifted from my shoulders”.

“Five years of training, training and training for this competition,” said Tuckfield.

Wheelchair basketball and goalball competitions also kicked off on Wednesday, with the China women’s basketball team beating Algeria 74-25 and the Netherlands beating the US team 68-58.

Wheelchair fencing medals are scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Japan.

The 2020 Paralympic Games kicked off with a colorful and festive opening ceremony on Tuesday evening, including a parade of participating nations led by the six-member refugee Paralympic team.

A volunteer carried the Afghan flag, in honor of Afghan athletes unable to compete in the Games after flights out of the country were canceled after the Taliban seized power.

Speaking on Wednesday, IPC spokesman Craig Spence said two Afghan Paralympians managed to flee the country.

“I’m not going to tell you where they are because it’s not about sport, it’s about human life and the safety of people,” he said. “They are now in a safe place. They have been through a very traumatic process, and they are undergoing psychological health counseling and testing.”

Canada's Maryam Salehizadeh and Meghan Mahon in action during a goalball match with the Russian Olympic Committee on August 25 in Chiba, Japan.
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Not all countries attended the opening ceremony: The New Zealand Paralympic team did not participate due to concerns over the spread of Covid-19.

Japan has seen record coronavirus cases in recent months, with more than 21,000 infections and 42 deaths reported nationwide on Tuesday.

Tokyo confirmed 4,220 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of infections in August to more than 100,000 – the first time a monthly tally has reached 100,000 cases. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike last week declared the situation a “disaster-level” emergency.

According to the prime minister’s office, just over 40% of the Japanese population was fully vaccinated as of August 22.

The Japanese government is expected to decide on Wednesday to extend the state of emergency for Tokyo and 12 other regions to eight other prefectures, according to the public broadcaster NHK.

Like the Olympics, the Paralympics are held almost entirely without spectators to curb the spread of the virus. Plans to allow some schoolchildren to attend events have been canceled in parts of the country due to the spread of the virus, Tokyo 2020 spokesperson Takaya Masa said on Wednesday.

At least eight Paralympic athletes have tested positive for Covid-19 since August 12, according to the IPC, along with 33 Games-related staff.

CNN’s Tokyo-based Emiko Jozuka contributed reporting.

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