Top 5: Moments at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics (one year on)

Archery at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

It’s been a year since the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

Delayed by 12 months due to the worldwide pandemic, we finally watched 140 inspirational – and elite – para archers competed on the archery field in Yumenoshima Park. Nine champions were crowned, new stars were born and some wonderful human stories came to light.

I was one of the few lucky enough to travel to Tokyo to report on the Paralympic Games – and these are my five highlights as we look back, one year on.

5) Nemati’s third win

Zahra Nemati, whose long-time campaigning for women’s rights and people with impairment has made her a global star, was Iran’s flagbearer in Tokyo. Then she wrote history on the field. She won her third consecutive title at the Paralympic Games, defeating Italy’s Vincenza Petrilli in the recurve women’s final. She finished the match with a perfect 10.

I can’t really explain this feeling. It’s of course happiness. I think my performance showed everything I wanted to say,” she said right afterwards. The Iranian is only the second archer in history to win gold at three different editions of the Paralympic Games.

4) Drahoninsky’s dance

Charismatic wheelchair archer David Drahoninsky regained the Paralympic Champion title in Tokyo, winning a thrilling W1 men’s final against Nihat Turkmenoglu of Turkey. After his last arrow, the Czech archer was visibly emotional. He expressed his joy by dancing in his wheelchair – producing one of the most memorable images of the para archery competition in Yumenoshima Park.

After the medal ceremony, Drahoninsky could not hide his tears as he dedicated his second Paralympic title (after Beijing 2008) to his father, who had passed two years before: “I did what I promised to my father. I think he sees me now and is very proud of me,” he said.

Matt Stutzman and Piotr van Montagu.

3) Armless archers clash

It was something that the world of archery had not seen before. Two athletes without arms competed in the same event. The famous Matt Stutzman drew Piotr van Montagu of Belgium. The image of an archer shooting a bow with their feet is incredibly impressive – especially to non-archers – and the fact that there were two in Tokyo was indicative of the growth of para archery. Stutzman was no longer the only elite ‘Armless Archer’.

Van Montagu’s story gained extensive coverage, especially in Poland – where he was born and abandoned by his parents. After growing up in Belgium, he discovered archery and made his Paralympic debut only three years after picking up a bow.

2) Zuniga makes history

Mariana Zuniga became Chile’s first-ever Paralympic archer in Tokyo.

“I cried a lot at the opening ceremony,” she said at the start of the competition. “I am so proud and so happy to be here and make history.” She struggled to find the words to describe her excitement: “I think it’s a beautiful time and I’m enjoying this experience.”

She enjoyed the competition to its full, her performance exceeding all expectations. Zuniga reached the compound women’s final and, eventually, collected the silver medal after losing to Phoebe Paterson Pine in the final. “Even before the quarterfinals, I was happy,” said the history-maker. “All the things that happened after were like winning experiences, winning beautiful moments. I feel like a winner.”

1) ‘Rooster’s’ fairytale debut

Seeding 17th in qualification did not foreshadow Kevin Mather’s golden run in Tokyo. The US archer, at his first Paralympic Games, wasn’t considered a favourite. But he paved his own path to the final – after upset Iranian top seed Gholamreza Rahimi in the latter’s first match. 

Eventually, in a dramatic final, held under the moody lights and insipid rain, the Rooster built a lead by winning the first two sets. He needed an eight with his last arrow in the third but shot a seven to win it. Zhao Lixue levelled things up and they went to a fifth-set decider. When Mather’s last arrow of the event was upgraded, giving him the gold medal, he raised his arms in celebration.

“It feels heavy at the moment. It feels incredible. This is my first time seeing one from these Games up close,” he said, holding his medal after the ceremony.