Afghan athlete Zakia Khudadadi, who escaped Kabul after the Taliban takeover, yesterday competed in taekwondo’s Paralympic debut in Tokyo, as cycling queen Sarah Storey became Britain’s most successful Paralympian.
Khudadadi, one of two Afghanistan team members evacuated from the Taliban-controlled country, fought in the Paralympics’ first-ever taekwondo match.
The first female Afghan to compete in the Paralympics since Athens in 2004 looked stoic ahead of her bout against Uzbekistan’s Ziyodakhon Isakova, emerging from behind a curtain to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.
The Afghan won the first round 6-5, but fell behind in the second, eventually losing the match 17-12.
In the afternoon’s repechage round, Khudadadi lost to Ukraine’s Viktoriia Marchuk 48-34.
Officials said that neither Afghan Paralympian would speak to the press in Tokyo, prioritizing the athletes’ well-being.
“We’ve left them be for the last few days, just to focus on competition, because that was their dream to compete,” International Paralympic Committee spokesman Craig Spence said.
“We’ll now start to have conversations about what happens in terms of the closing ceremony, and where they go next,” he added.
The premier of taekwondo came a day after badminton made its long-awaited first appearance on Wednesday, when Taiwan’s Fang Jen-yu defeated Japan’s Imai Taiyou 21-16, 17-21, 21-10 in 58 minutes of play in the men’s singles SU5 group B opener for athletes who can stand, but have an upper limb impairment.
The 22-year-old Fang yesterday fell to Malaysia’s Cheah Like Hou. The 33-year-old world No. 2 won 21-13, 21-9 in 27 minutes.
Today, Fang is to play Ahmed Magdy Amin Eldakrory of Egypt, who Liek Hou defeated in the opener 21-3, 21-2 in a speedy 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, British cycling legend Storey returned to the Fuji International Speedway to claim her 17th Paralympic victory in the women’s C4-5 road race.
The indomitable 43-year-old’s golden hat-trick in Tokyo makes her the most decorated British Paralympian — dethroning swimmer Mike Kenny, who won 16 golds from 1976 to 1988.
“In that last descent I didn’t touch my brakes, I just went for it,” she said after the race, which went ahead in treacherous cool, wet and foggy conditions.
“I’m a bit overwhelmed, again,” she told Channel 4 TV immediately after the 79.2km race. “I feel like it is happening to someone else.”
“Right now, I can’t explain or compute anything about the race, but crossing the line first felt so good,” she added.
Storey’s longevity and endurance is remarkable. She began her Paralympic career in the swimming pool as a 14-year-old at Barcelona in 1992, where she won two golds.
After winning five swimming gold medals from 1992 to 2004, Storey switched to cycling at Beijing 2008, and has surpassed Kenny’s record, which stood for 33 years.
Storey, who was born without a functioning left arm, has broken 76 world records and is in the form of her life, while smashing her own world best in the pursuit.
She choked back tears as she recalled how it all began, with a little help from her parents.
“My mum and dad said to me when I was 12, when I wasn’t winning anything in school ... they kept saying to me: ‘Focus on you, Sarah, just focus on your best,’” Storey said, with her voice cracking. “And that’s what I keep doing.”
Japanese wheelchair tennis star Shingo Kunieda reached the finals after trouncing Britain’s Gordon Reid 6-3, 6-2 in a thrilling match full of graceful rallies.
Kunieda told public broadcaster NHK that his strategy had been to “hit proactively from the start, without worrying about making mistakes.”
It means Japan has a chance of winning two singles golds, with Yui Kamiji due to face Dutch world No. 1 Diede de Groot in the women’s final today.
In the soggy Olympic Stadium on Thursday, Cape Verde’s Keula Nidreia Pereira Semedo failed to qualify for the women’s T11 200m semi-finals — but there was a surprise consolation.
After the race, her guide runner Manuel Antonio Vaz da Veiga got down on one knee and proposed. Video of the magic moment showed both athletes beaming as Semedo accepted.
“Now I have an additional motivation to carry on after the Games, always with him by my side,” she said.
Additional reporting by Reuters, with staff writer
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