All you need to know about the Tokyo Paralympics

5:30 pm on 23 August 2021

The Tokyo Olympics may have finished earlier this month, but the end of the event was simply a break in the action.

Paralympic success for the likes of swimmer Sophie Pascoe could finally reap the same funding benefits as Olympic athletes.

Paralympic success for the likes of swimmer Sophie Pascoe could finally reap the same funding benefits as Olympic athletes. Photo: Photosport

The world's top para-athletes have descended on the Japanese capital for the Paralympic Games, which are set to start on Tuesday (August 24).

So, what can you expect from the event, and how are the New Zealand athletes shaping up?

Here are RNZ's five things you need to know about the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

1/ WHAT?

This year's Paralympics will be the 16th summer edition of an event involving athletes with a wide range of disabilities.

Up to 4,400 athletes from around the world are set to compete across 539 individual events in 22 para sports at 21 different venues.

The total number of expected athletes is around the same as the number of athletes which competed at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, which involved competitors from 160 different countries.

These numbers have steadily risen since the first official Paralympics in 1960 in Rome, which involved 400 athletes from 23 countries.

Organisers say the Paralympic Games is the largest event worldwide for driving social change and inclusion.

2/ WHEN?

The Paralympics start on Tuesday, with the opening ceremony, and are set to run through until the end of next week (Sunday, September 5).

Much like the Tokyo Olympics, the early events will start around mid-morning New Zealand time, with the later events running past midnight.

The medal events start right from the first day of competition on Wednesday, with podium spots up for grabs in swimming, track cycling and wheelchair fencing.

The Wheel Blacks playing Australia in Tokyo.

Photo: RNZ / Joe Porter


Para-athletes must first have one or more impairments from a list of physical, visual and intellectual impairments, which are divided into 10 types and must be permanent.

The athletes then go through classification, grouping them into a sport specific class according to how much their impairment affects their ability to compete.

This means different athletes in the same class may have different impairments but ensures competition within the classes is as fair and equal as possible.

Players in team sports, meanwhile, are given points based on the severity of their impairment on that specific sport.

The lower the score, the more severe the impairment, with each team only allowed a maximum number of points on the field of play at one time.


The New Zealand team for the Tokyo Paralympics includes 29 athletes across six different sports - athletics, canoeing, cycling, swimming, shooting and wheelchair rugby.

More than half of the athletes are first timers, with 17 making their Paralympic debuts in Tokyo.

The NZ team, by sport (Paralympic appearances in brackets):

Wheelchair rugby: Barney Koneferenisi, Hayden Barton-Cootes, Cody Everson, Robert Hewitt, Tainafi Lefono, Gareth Lynch, Gavin Rolton and Mike Todd (all 0). Koneferenisi was a late replacement for three-time Paralympian Cameron Leslie, who withdrew due to family reasons.

Athletics: Holly Robinson (2), Caitlin Dore, Anna Grimaldi and William Stedman (all 1) and Lisa Adams, Danielle Aitchison, Anna Steven, and Ben Tuimaseve (all 0).

L-R: Anna Grimaldi, Danielle Aitchison, William Stedman, Lisa Adams, Holly Robinson and Caitlin Dore.
Announcement of selected Para athletes for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games


Cycling (road and track): Stephen Hills (1), Sarah Ellington, Eltje Malzbender, Rory Mead, Nicole Murray and Anna Taylor (all 0).

Swimming: Sophie Pascoe (3), Nikita Howarth (2), Tupou Neiufi and Jesse Reynolds (both 1).

Canoe: Scott Martlew (1) and Corbin Hart (0).

Shooting: Michael Johnson (4).


New Zealand's medal tally has steadily increased over the last three Paralympic cycles, with 10 won at Athens 2004, 12 at Beijing 2008, 17 at London 2012 and 21 at Rio 2016.

One athlete who contributed greatly to those medal hauls, swimmer Sophie Pascoe, is back again for Tokyo.

The star Cantabrian has no less than 15 Paralympic medals to her name, including nine gold, while fellow swimmer Nikita Howarth won gold and bronze in Rio.

The athletics group also have several contenders, with long jumper Anna Grimaldi (gold), javelin thrower Holly Robinson (silver) and runner/long jumper William Stedman (two bronze) all taking medals home in 2016.

Another familiar name will be Lisa Adams, who's rapid rise up the shot put ranks has seen her win a world title and break the world record in her classification on multiple occasions. Adams is coached by her older sister and four-time Olympic medallist Dame Valerie Adams.

The New Zealand team also includes three-time Paralympic medalist shooter Michael Johnson, back for his fifth Games, and the return of the national wheelchair rugby side.

The Wheel Blacks missed qualification for the last two Paralympics after winning gold in 2004 and bronze in 2000 and 1996.