The 2021 Tokyo Paralympics Recap

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

On August 24, with the theme of “We Have Wings”, competitors from all around the world gathered to compete in the postponed 2021 Tokyo Paralympics. This theme was inspired by a story of a plane with one wing that wanted to fly. The ceremony enacted the story, showing how the plane went from almost giving up to learning that it too can fly, inspiring people all around the world. 


The Paralympics allows athletes with disabilities to display their skills at a global level. Those with physical, visual, or intellectual impairments are offered the opportunity to compete. The first Paralympic Games took place in Rome, Italy in 1960 with only 23 countries. This year’s Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan, has a total of 126 nations participating and includes 22 sports, featuring two new sports: badminton and taekwondo.

Impact of COVID-19

The ongoing COVID- 19 pandemic has brought challenges for this year’s fans and athletes. Fans were not allowed to watch the games in person, leaving competitors celebrating to empty and quiet stands. Furthermore, experts have not yet discovered the complete impact of COVID-19 on the disabled, making the health and safety of the athletes even more important. The Paralympics committee recommended for para-athletes to “follow current medical guidance from the WHO and their national guidelines on prevention [of infection]”.  However, even with the ongoing pandemic, countries, athletes, and fans pushed through the many barriers and challenges to bring a successful Paralympics.  

Veterans in the Paralympics

There are 18 veterans and three active-duty service members out of the 240 athletes from the USA team. Their service to the nation as well as their representation in the Paralympics is truly inspiring. The opportunity for veterans and service members to participate in the Paralympics has given them support and continued assistance in their recovery process. Army Veteran and two-time Paralympian archery athlete described her experience positively, “For the first time, from the day I got off that bus, I was an athlete. They never called us clients, or participants, or campers. We were athletes”.

Medal Count

Of the 126 countries that participated, China had the highest total medal count and gold medal count, mirroring its first-place ranking in 2016. Great Britain placed second and the United States came in third. The chart to the right shows the medal count of the leading 10 countries for this year’s Paralympics.


The Paralympics bring all types of people together from all around the world. Even though it is a competition, these games bring out the best in humanity. We see the perseverance and drive the athletes have to win gold, not only for their country but for themselves, and to inspire those like them around the world.