Sport Olympics The Australian athletes to watch at the Tokyo Paralympics

The Australian athletes to watch at the Tokyo Paralympics

Tokyo Paralympics
Australia has 179 athletes competing at the Tokyo Paralympics. Here are some to watch. Photo: Getty
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A fortnight after Australia’s record Olympic success, another team of star athletes is set to wow the world from Tokyo as the Paralympics get under way.

Tuesday night’s opening ceremony was held in front of an empty Olympic Stadium, with flag bearers Ryley Batt and Danni Di Toro the only athletes present to represent Australia.

Australia’s chef de mission Kate McLoughlin marched behind the co-captains.

The lack of crowds amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic hasn’t deterred our Paralympians, though, with the team shaping up to emulate their Olympic colleagues’ medal haul and score a second gold medal rush for Australia.

We’re spoilt with the quality and number of athletes competing for the green and gold, so expect to watch a healthy haul of medals go Australia’s way.

Here are the stars to watch out for over the next two weeks.

Swimmers lead the charge

Swimming was the key to Australia’s gold medal charge at the Olympics, and the Paralympics are no different.

Australia’s swimmers won 29 medals – including 10 gold – in the pool at the Rio Paralympics, and mainstays Tiffany Thomas Kane, Brenden Hall and Ellie Cole are leading the charge in Tokyo.

Hall, who holds the world record in three events, begins the defence of his 2016 gold in the 400m freestyle S9 with heats on Wednesday morning, before the finals that night.

Tokyo Paralympics
Brenden Hall aims to go back to back as the 400m freestyle S9 gold medallist. Photo: Getty

The two-time gold medallist will be hard to beat at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, coming in as the reigning 400m, 800m, and 1500m freestyle S9 champion.

The 27-year-old, who lost his right leg to chickenpox in 1999, is a Paralympics veteran with three campaigns under his belt.

In addition to his two Paralympic gold medals, Hall is also a three-time Commonwealth Games medallist and eight-time world champion, and comes into Tokyo as the record holder in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle S9 classification.

Ellie Cole hopes to turn water into gold in Tokyo, competing in the first of five events on Wednesday in the women’s 400m freestyle S9.

Cole has been on the Australian swim team since Beijing 2008 and is one of Australia’s most recognisable Paralympians, competing in what is her fourth Paralympics.

Tokyo Paralympics
Ellie Cole is a six-time Paralympic gold medallist, competing at her fourth Games. Photo: Getty

She will also press for a medal in the highly touted women’s 100m backstroke S9 later in the week, against New Zealand star Sophie Pascoe.

Tiffany Thomas Kane was the highlight of the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, winning gold in the women’s 100m breaststroke SB6 at just 16 years old.

Thomas Kane was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in recognition for her feat — and is set to light up Australian living rooms once again.

The 20-year-old moved up a class for the Tokyo Paralympics and will compete in the women’s 200m individual medley SM7 on Friday.

Her prime event, the SB7 women’s breaststroke, will be held on September 1.

Elsewhere in Tokyo, paracanoeing legend Curtis McGrath looks to add to his already impressive list of achievements across two events.

The 33-year-old, who lost both his legs from a mine blast while serving the Australian army in Afghanistan nine years ago, won Paralympic gold at Rio in 2016 in the men’s KL2.

Tokyo paralympics
Curtis McGrath will defend his Rio canoe gold and also could take out the new kayak class. Photo: Getty

McGrath will also compete in the new kayak class, with both events scheduled for the second week.

Three-time silver medallist Madison de Rozario has a clear focus coming into the wheelchair athletics events in Tokyo.

De Rozario has traditionally focused on shorter track events, having competed in the 4x100m relay in Beijing, and the 4x400m and 800m T53/54 events in Rio.

The addition of the marathon to her arsenal could see her win her first Paralympics gold.

De Rozario won gold in the women’s marathon T54 and the women’s 1500m T54 at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast and is the world record holder in the women’s 400m and 800m T53 events.

She also won the famous London marathon women’s wheelchair title in 2018.

Tokyo paralympics
Prince Harry poses with the men’s and women’s wheelchair winners, David Weir and Madison de Rozario, at the 2018 London Marathon. Photo: Getty

De Rozario’s competition begins in the 400m T53 heats on August 29.

Also in athletics, Jaryd Clifford will show why he is touted as one of the world’s best vision-impaired runners.

Debuting as a fresh-faced 17-year-old in Rio, Clifford didn’t win any medals, but he has made significant strides to become the man to beat in Tokyo.

Clifford was crowned a dual world champion and world record holder in the men’s 1500m and 5000m T13 at the 2019 World Para-athletics Championships in November.

His biggest struggle now is finding guides who can keep up with him.

Tokyo paralympics
Clifford and long-time guide, training partner, and best mate, Tim Logan run together at the 2019 world championships. Photo: Getty

Elsewhere inside the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, Lina Lei, one of the most decorated Paralympic table tennis players ever, will compete in the green and gold for the first time.

The five-time Paralympic gold medallist moved from her native China to Australia after the Rio Paralympics.

She leads fellow expatriates Yang Qian and Ma Lin in Australian colours for the first time in the women’s Class 9 competition.

Milly Tapper rounds out Australia’s impressive table tennis team, aiming to improve on her fourth-place finishes at the past two Paralympics.

Meanwhile, flag bearer Ryley Batt and Australia’s mixed wheelchair rugby team, the Steelers, are chasing their third consecutive Paralympic gold medal in Tokyo.

Despite being a mixed-gender event, no female has ever represented Australia in wheelchair rugby at the Paralympics.

Shae Graham, who suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident when she was 18, will be the first.

Tokyo paralympics
Shae Graham has competed for Australia in wheelchair rugby, but never at the Paralympics. Photo: Getty

Emily Petricola, who only took up para-cycling as a hobby six years ago, is eyeing two gold medals by the end of the Tokyo Paralympics.

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007, Petricola followed advice from a friend in 2015 to try out road cycling on the chance she might enjoy it.

Since then she has won a bronze and silver para-cycling medal at the 2018 Track World Championships, and broke the world record in qualifying for the individual pursuit.

Tokyo marks Petricola’s first Paralympics, competing at the Fuji International Speedway in the road race in the C4 class on August 31.

At the Izu Velodrome, Amanda Reid is not only the gold medal favourite in the C2 class for the 500m time-trial on the track but also a trailblazer as an elite Indigenous Australian cyclist.

Tokyo Paralympics
Amanda Reid won the women’s C1-3 500m Time Trial at the Rio Paralympics in 2016. Photo: AAP

Reid could break her own world record when she competes on August 25.

Meanwhile, at the Sea Forest Waterway, Erik Horrie will represent Australia and chase an elusive Paralympic gold medal in rowing.

As a five-time world champion in the men’s single sculls, Horrie won silver in Rio and in London.

Horrie is an accomplished wheelchair basketballer but turned his focus to rowing after missing selection in the 2008 Beijing team.

You can watch Australia’s largest-ever overseas Paralympic team, with 179 athletes competing in Tokyo, on the streaming platform 7Plus and free-to-air TV on Channel Seven

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