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Top technology in play at Tokyo Paralympics

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By | Athletics

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Asiya Mohammed at her home in Likoni, Mombasa. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Move over Tokyo Olympics and World Athletics Under-20 championship and tune in to 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

The Games, under the motto ‘United by Emotion’, will be opened today by Japan’s Emperor Naruhito at Tokyo Olympic Stadium from 2pm Kenyan time.

It is that time again when you sit back and watch how differently abled athletes do their thing, often times moving you to shading tears how they put aside their physical, visual and intellectual disability to post amazing performances.

Kenya will be among 163 nations taking part in the 16th edition starting today to September 5. Nine paralympians, seven of them in athletics, a powerlifter and a rower, make up Team Kenya.

Kenya’s visually impaired Eric Sang will compete in 1500m T11 alongside Wilson Bii (1,500m T11, 5,000m T11) and Rodgers Kiprop (5,000m T11). Felix Kipruto will compete in 1,500m T46.

The other five participants will be female athletes; Mary Waithera Njoroge in 1,500m (T11), Nelly Nasimiyu Munialo in 1,500 (T13) and Nancy Chelangat Koech  in  1,500m (T11). The others are Hellen Wawira Kariuki in Powerlifting and Asiya Mohamed in Rowing Single Sculls.

Tokyo Paralympics will be a celebration of human endeavour as Marathon king Eliud Kipchoge aptly puts as ‘no human is limited’.

From sheer brawn to assistive technology, the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics promises mouth-watering action which for years to come will provide fodder for researchers as humans continue to push for new possibilities in sports.

Tech giants have stepped on to the track to provide cutting-edge technology such as wheelchairs built using Formula One techniques. Motor manufacturers such as BMW and British aerospace company, BAE Systems, are working behind the scenes to provide the best equipment for the disabled athletes.

Rich nations will have their swimmers wearing caps that signal blind swimmers when to turn via a smartphone.

Samsung’s swimming cap has almost eliminated the ‘tappers’ -- the coaches holding a soft ball attached to a long stick who would then alert a swimmer when the end of the pool is near. Instead, the Samsung cap now allows coaches to send vibration alerts using a smartphone.

Remember the ‘Battle of Blades’ sparked by disgraced South African Oscar Pistorious in 2008? Now the world has moved on to even deadlier and lighter prosthetics. Today, the blades are even lighter, springy and compact. These prosthetics, or running blades, are used by amputee athletes to replace the calf and ankle.

According to the International Paralympic Committee, the J-shaped prosthetic is made of carbon fibre, a strong, lightweight material, and helps an athlete as they step forward, whether during a sprint, a vertical lift or a long jump.

Carbon fibre wheelchairs and improved designs will make the Games the more interesting and competitive. The wheelchairs used in basketball are customised to the needs of the athletes and their classification.

According to IPC, athletes who have lesser mobility in their lower body will have “bucket seats” and higher backrests for stability.

“For athletes with more mobility, they may have another wheel at the back to allow them to lean back as far as they can to take their shots.”

Badminton will be making its debut at the Paralympics. Being a demanding sport in terms of movement of the court delivery of the shuttlecock, it will be interesting to watch competitors on their wheelchairs. During the IPC Press conference on Saturday, there was a display of what is to be expected.


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