Tokyo Paralympics: 10 young stars to watch out for
Tokyo: The Tokyo Paralympic Games will be held from August 24 to September 5 and the 12 days of competitions will see around 4,400 para sportspersons participating in 22 sports. Among the sportspersons that will reach Tokyo, there are many young stars expected to make their mark on the world stage. Watch out for these 10 exceptional young talents about whom you will listen even after the Tokyo 2020 Games are over:
- Liu Yutong, 17, China, para badminton
A two-times World Championship gold medallist in women’s WH2 singles, Liu Yutong will be the player-to-beat in her category at Tokyo 2020 as para-badminton makes its Paralympic Games debut.
Liu Yutong burst onto the scene aged 13 when she won gold at the 2017 World Championships and two years later defended her title to prove that her first medal was not a fluke.
Now ranked world number one in WH2. Liu has great racquet skills and anticipation which compensate for her limited speed and flexibility. A fan of Chinese badminton legend Lin Dan, Liu had won two gold medals in the Para Asian Games at Jakarta in 2018.
- Olivier Hendriks, 17, Netherlands, para-athletics
The 17-year-old Dutch sprinter Hendriks is a star for the future. Hendriks sprinted to a gold medal in both 100m T62 and 400m T62 at the European Para Athletics Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, in June, proving that he is hitting top form just in time for the mega event.
Hendriks, who had bagged a silver in 400 T62 at the Para Athletics World Championships in Dubai in 2019, will be competing in 400m T62 at Tokyo and can dominate the sport in the next few years.
- Palak Kohli, 18, India, para badminton
Palak has had a meteoric rise in the sport as she took up the sport only a few years back. By the dint of her talent and hard work, Palak is currently ranked 15th in women’s singles SU5 and sixth in women’s doubles SU5 with Parul Parmar.
Palak will be participating in SU5 singles and doubles in Tokyo and hoping to bag at least one medal. Though she has recently recovered from bone marrow edema in her left tibia, Palak showed glimpses of her standard when she won silver in the 3rd Dubai Para-Badminton International 2021 in April and looks good to continue that form in Tokyo.
- Manish Narwal, 19, India, para shooting
The youngster from Faridabad, Haryana is the brightest shooting sports star of India. He won the gold medal in P4 Mixed 50m pistol SH1 event at the Al Ain 2021 World Shooting Para Sport World Cup in March, setting a world record score of 229.1. Narwal announced his arrival by winning gold at the 2018 Asian Para Games in the P1 (men’s 10m air pistol SH1); he also captured silver in the P4 (mixed 50m pistol SH1). Since then, Narwal has added two World Championship bronze medals to his kitty and has also been awarded the Arjuna Award for his feats.
- Salma Ali Abd Al Moneem Hassan, 17, Egypt, para taekwondo
Since winning a silver medal in the 58 kg K44 division at the 2019 African Open para Taekwondo championship, Moneem Hassan has emerged as one of the most exciting up-and-coming fighters to keep your eye on in the coming years. As para taekwondo makes its debut at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Moneem Hassan is the one to beat in her division.
She claimed her berth at Tokyo in 2019 by winning the African qualifying championship. Moneem Hassan had knocked off USA’s No. 2 Brianna Salinaro on her way to a surprise silver medal in the women’s up to 58kg K44 in her first international competition.
- Isabella Vincent (15, Australia, swimmer)
The youngest member of the Australian contingent, Isabella came first in S7-400m freestyle and S6-S13 100m backstroke and finished second in SM7 200m individual medley at the Australian Swimming Trials 2021 in her home town Adelaide. Isabella suffers from sacral agenesis caudal regression syndrome from birth and took up competitive swimming in 2018 after a stint of post-operative hydrotherapy. The same year she won nine medals including seven gold at the 2018 School Sport Australia Swimming Championship in Hobart.
- Juan Diego Garcia Lopez, 18, Mexico, Para-Taekwondo
The new kid on the block, Lopez caused a sensation when he won gold in the para taekwondo World Championships in 2019 and has emerged as the sport’s best fighter in the men’s up to 7kg class. Lopez entered 2019 ranked No. 5, won five titles in the season including the world title and the ParaPan Games and finished the year at No. 1. His achievements earned him Mexico’s top sports award in the Paralympics category last year.
- Anastasia Pagonis, 16, USA, para-swimming
Swimming is an easy act for those who have a vision. But even though she is vision impaired, Anastasia Pagonis makes both swimming and a lot of other things look easy/ For example, putting her makeup, which she does with ease.
In February this year, the S11 star won two gold medals at the Melbourne World Series event. Pagonis, from Long Island, New York, got into swimming when she first began losing her vision at 12 years old due to genetic retina disease and autoimmune retinopathy.
At the US trials, the 17-year-old set a world record in the preliminaries in the S11 400-meter freestyle and then lowered it during the finals the same night. While she is not swimming, Pagonis is the star on Instagram.
- Lise Petersen (Germany, javelin throw)
Lise Petersen is a multi-faceted athlete and participates in javelin throw, long jump, and 60m and 200m sprints. In Tokyo, she will participate in javelin throw T-46 and long jump F46. The 16-year-old was a surprise choice in the German track and field squad and the youngest member of the Germany contingent for the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Born in June 2005 at Haselund (North Friesland district), has a best of 35.53 metre in the javelin and a leap of 4.54m in the long jump. She has an impairment in her right arm.
- Merle Menje (Germany, wheelchair racing)
The 16-year-old emerged winner in women’s 5000m T-54 at the European Para Athletics Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland in June 2021 and will be participating in 100m, 400m 800m,1500m, and 5000m. She won another gold in the women’s 400m T54 and added two more silver medals in the women’s 100m and 800m T54. No other athlete in Bydgoszcz won four medals and that puts her at the top of the pack for the Tokyo Paralympics.
“I just want to train, be better, and then we will see what I can achieve,” Menje said after the European meet about her plans for Tokyo. Indeed the world will be a witness to her unique talent in Tokyo.