Athletes with intellectual impairment highlighted at Tokyo 2020 Paralympics

By Mousumi Mazumdar (First published on IPC website on 06 Nov 2021) 

World and Paralympic records broken by athletes with intellectual impairments across three sports.

Breanna Clark screams in joy after winning gold

Breanna Clark celebrates after winning Tokyo 2020 gold ⒸGetty Images

A total of 161 athletes competed at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in the intellectual impairment class events across three different sports – Para table tennis class 11, Para swimming S14, SB14, SM14 and Para athletics T20, F20.

These events saw many debutant athletes, going home as proud Paralympians. At Tokyo, 90 male and 71 female athletes participated.

Amidst the global pandemic, it was a challenge for many of the 90 Virtus Member Nations to field a team due to several restrictions.

Marc Truffaut, President of Virtus (World Intellectual Impairment Sport), said: “We are very proud of every athlete with an intellectual impairment who participated at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. I was impressed to see outstanding performance by many new Paralympians across all three sports.

Most Decorated Athletes

Male category:

Reece Dunn from Great Britain in his Paralympic debut, Dunn claimed three gold with respective World records, one silver, and one bronze.
“I’ve loved it, every single second of it. I swam really well so that is just a bonus. It’s been great being here and I have really enjoyed myself,” said Dunn.
Female category:
Valeriia Shabalina from Russia with three golds, one silver and also set a new World record in the process.

Swimming Highlights 

Fifty six per cent of the athletes competed in swimming S14 and were vying for the 33 Paralympic medals up or grabs in six events: men’s and women’s 100m butterfly, 100m backstroke, 100m breaststroke, 200m freestyle, 200m individual medley and the 4×100 mixed freestyle relay. The events were dominated by the debutants in male and female categories.

Paralympic records were broken consecutively in many heats and new World and Paralympic records set in eight out of 11 events for the S14 class.

1. Men’s 100m butterfly: Gabriel Bandeira (Brazil) – New Paralympic record with a time of 54.76.

2. Women’s 100m butterfly: Valeriia Shabalina (Russian Paralympic Committee) – New World and Paralympic record with a time of 1:03.59.

3. Men’s 100m backstroke: Benjamin Hance (Australia) – New World and Paralympic record with a time of 57.73.

4. Men’s 100m breaststroke: Naohide Yamaguchi (Japan) – New World and Paralympic record with a time of 1:03.77 sec.

5. Women’s 100m breaststroke: Michelle Alonso Morales (Spain) – New World and Paralympic record with a time of 1:12.02 sec.

6. Men’s 200m individual medley: Reece Dunn (Great Britain) – New World record with a time of 2:08.02 sec.

7. Men’s 200m freestyle: Reece Dunn (Great Britain) – New World record with a time of 1:52.40sec.

8. 4x100m freestyle relay: Great Britain – Jordan Catchpole, Reece Dunn, Jessica-Jane Applegate, Bethany Firth – New World record with a time of 3:40.63sec.

EN ROUTE TO TITLE: Valeriia Shabalina of RPC competes in the swimming women’s 200m individual medley – SM14 final at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Athletics Highlights

Thirty nine athletes participated across four athletics events – men’s and women’s 400m and 1500m T20, and the men’s and women’s long jump and shot put F20.

Gold medalist Poleth Isamar Mendes Sanchez of Ecuador poses after winning gold in the women’s shot put F20 at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. P.C- OIS

New Records set in Four our of Eight events

1. Women’s 400m T20: Breanna Clark (USA) – New World and Paralympic record with the timing of 55.18sec.

2. Women’s shot put F20: Poleth Isamar Mendes Sanchez (Ecuador) – New World and Paralympic record with a distance of 14.39m. Also created history by winning the first Paralympic medal for Ecuador.

3. Men’s shot put F20: Maksym Koval (Ukraine) – New World and Paralympic record with a distance of 17.34m.

4. Women’s long jump F20: Karolina Kucharczyk (Poland) – New Paralympic record with a distance of 6.03m.

Karolina Kucharczyk poses following the medal winning performance.

Kucharczyk said “I promised my grandad that I will win gold in Tokyo, but he died just after my event in Rio, and I couldn’t even attend his funeral (in 2016). I went to his grave with the silver medal and promised to turn it into gold. Over the five years, I have worked very hard to fulfill my promise. I am missing him but I know he was with me during my event.”

Table Tennis Highlights

Twenty athletes from 12 countries competed in the class 11 event. In men’s category, Peter Palos of Hungary became three-time Paralympic champion by claiming the title at Tokyo 2020 against Sam Von Einem from Australia with a score of 3-2.
“I’m still not sure how I managed to win but here I am as a Paralympic champion yet again,” he said after the match. Von Einem took his second Paralympic silver from the Games.
“I was happy that I was able to win a medal and play on the big stage in the final again…Silver is fantastic. It’s been a fantastic week for me. I might take a little break but then I’ll be looking forward to trying to go that one more in Paris 2024,” said von Einem.

Peter Palos in action. P.C- OIS

ITTF World No. 1 Elena Prokofeva won against young French player, Lea Ferney, 3-1 for gold. The 41-year old who debuted at Tokyo 2020 said, “I waited a lot for this day and I just did what I needed to do.”

Competing in her first Paralympic Games, Ferney was elated with the silver, saying, “I was surprised even to get selected for the Paralympics because you have to come first amongst everyone in France. I came here to win. I am not disappointed with the silver because I am bringing a medal home. I am only 17 years old so it’s only the start. I am not thinking about anything now, I will just celebrate.”

With the next Paralympic Games in Paris in 2024, elite athletes with an intellectual impairment from around the world will have the opportunity to compete on French soil at the Virtus Global Games – Vichy 2023.

This is a multi-sport international event bringing thousands of athletes, defending champions and Paralympians face to face, prior to Paris 2024.

The Virtus Global Games is held every four years in the preceding year to the Paralympics and is the pinnacle event for athletes with intellectual impairment to compete at elite level internationally in more than 10 sports.