Paralympic Games
24 August - 5 September 2021

Tokyo 2020 one-year anniversary: Top 10 moments of the Games

Looking back at the athletic feats and some of the most emotional moments from last year’s Paralympic Games. 24 Aug 2022
Three athletes on wheelchairs light a sphere-shaped cauldron during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, held from 24 August to 5 September last year, featured more than 4,300 athletes from around the world.
ⒸBob Martin/ OIS

With more than 500 medal events, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games were packed with memorable moments, including athletic feats, historic firsts and even a heart-warming marriage proposal.

Relive the Top 10 moments from Tokyo 2020 as we celebrate the first anniversary of the Games.

1.    Single-winged airplane takes flight as Games open after postponement

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games opened following a one-year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Opening Ceremony was a spectacular celebration well worth the wait.

The Ceremony presented a story of an airplane with one wing that dreamed of taking flight, performed by 13-year-old Yui Wago, a Japanese student who uses a wheelchair.

Held under the slogan “We Have Wings", the Ceremony entertained athletes with fireworks, music and dance performances. The cauldron was lit by Japanese boccia player Sunsuke Uchida, wheelchair tennis player Yui Kamiji and Para powerlifter Karin Morisaki.

2.    Shingo Kunieda’s emotional victory on home soil

Shingo Kunieda served as captain of the Japanese team at Tokyo 2020. @Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Home favourite Shingo Kunieda broke down in tears after winning the men’s wheelchair tennis singles final, securing his third singles gold medal and his first since London 2012.

Kunieda, who lost in the quarterfinals at Rio 2016, had battled injuries in the lead up to his home Games and even thought about retiring. This difficult journey made his victory in Tokyo - and the delight of the Japanese fans - all the greater.

3.    First-ever Para badminton and Para taekwondo competitions

Malaysia’s Cheah Liek Hou became the first-ever Paralympic gold medallist in Para badminton after defeating his Indonesian archrival Dheva Anrimusthi in straight games in the men’s singles SU5. Coming into the tournament as a six-time world champion, a delighted Liek Hou said he waited 18 years for the sport to be staged at the Paralympic Games.

Meanwhile, Peru’s Leonor Espinoza Carranza picked up the first gold medal in Para taekwondo, beating Turkey’s Meryem Cavdar in the women’s K44-49kg final in Makuhari Messe.

4.    Avani Lekhara takes historic gold for India

Avani Lekhara became the first Indian woman to win a Paralympic gold medal when she topped the podium in the R2 (women’s 10m air rifle SH1) with a world record of 249.6 points. Four days later she followed up her milestone victory with a bronze in the R8 women's 50m rifle 3 positions SH1. 

To make her accomplishment even more impressive, Lekhara achieved all this at the age of 19.

“I can’t describe this feeling. I feel like I’m on the top of the world. It’s unexplainable,” she said in Tokyo. “I’m so happy I could be the one to contribute it. Hopefully there’s a lot of medals more to come.”

5.    Boccia player Adam Peska shines in Paralympic debut

Adam Peska went undefeated in his Paralympic debut. @Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

Paralympic debutant Adam Peska of the Czech Republic defeated Greek legend Gregorios Polychronidis in a tie-break thriller to capture gold in the individual BC3, a class for athletes with the most severe impairments.

Peska won all six of his matches, including those against top rivals Daniel Michel and Howon Jeong.

6.    Swimmers Lu Dong and Zheng Tao lead China’s gold medal haul

Swimmers Lu Dong and Zheng Tao each bagged four gold medals, helping to put China firmly in the lead of the Tokyo 2020 medals table with 96 gold.

Lu, who was born with a limb impairment, won four events in the women’s S5 category: 50m backstroke, 50m butterfly, 200m individual medley and mixed 4x50m freestyle relay. Zheng dominated the men’s S5.

Great Britain finished second in the overall medals table with 41 gold, followed by USA with 37 gold.

7.    Great Britain win first wheelchair rugby gold

Great Britain pulled off a historic campaign at Tokyo 2020. @Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Great Britain secured their first ever Paralympic medal in wheelchair rugby after beating Team USA in a tight final at Yoyogi National Stadium. While the British players made it to the bronze medal matches at Atlanta 1996, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, they had never won a medal before that.

Wheelchair rugby also saw New Zealand back at the Games after a 13-year absence. The Wheel Blacks greeted USA with a Haka – a traditional maori dance – before their first group stage match.

8.    Dramatic finish sees USA’s Kendall Gretsch victorious

Kendall Gretsch, a two-time Paralympic champion in Para Nordic skiing, overtook Australia’s Lauren Parker at the finish line to win her career's first Para triathlon title by a mere second.

“As soon as I saw her, I was like, 'Hey, you just have to do it. You have to give everything you can'. On that final stretch I just put my head down and that was all I could do,” Gretsch said after her victory in the women’s PTWC race.

9.    Morocco makes history with bronze in blind football

Morocco defeated China 4-0 in the bronze medal match. @Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Blind football powerhouses Brazil and Argentina went head-to-head in an epic gold medal match, as was expected, but it was underdogs Morocco who truly stole the show in Tokyo when they won a surprise bronze medal in the tournament.

The African nation finished last in their Paralympic debut at Rio 2016, but soared to a podium finish five years later thanks to four impressive goals by Zouhair Snisla.

10.    A Paralympic proposal

The Tokyo Games also came with a love story that melted hearts around the world.

After sprinter Keula Nidreia Pereira Semedo of Cape Verde missed a spot in the semifinals of the women’s 200m T11 event, her guide Manuel Antonia Vaz da Veiga got down on one knee and proposed to her. The moment was celebrated on the track with fellow athletes, and also went viral on social media.