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Team Singapore at the Tokyo Paralympics: Who and what to look out for

SINGAPORE — With Japan having successfully hosted the Olympic Games, attention now shifts to another gathering of world-class competitors who will soon converge on its capital city of Tokyo.

(From left) Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, flagbearer Muhammad Diroy Noordin, chef de mission Shirley Low and Singapore National Paralympic Council chairperson Teo-Koh Sock Miang.

(From left) Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, flagbearer Muhammad Diroy Noordin, chef de mission Shirley Low and Singapore National Paralympic Council chairperson Teo-Koh Sock Miang.

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SINGAPORE — With Japan having successfully hosted the Olympic Games, attention now shifts to another gathering of world-class competitors who will soon converge on its capital city of Tokyo.

About 4,400 athletes are expected to compete at the Paralympic Games, which will open on Tuesday (Aug 24) and end on Sept 5. And just like the Olympics, fans will be banned from attending the Paralympics due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with Tokyo remaining under a state of emergency.

Team Singapore is sending 10 athletes across six sports, equalling the number of sports Singapore participated in at the last edition of the Paralympics. In addition, four of the 10 will be making their debuts.

Speaking to CNA on Aug 17 before she left for Tokyo two days later, chef de mission Shirley Low said that the mood among the athletes was "upbeat". Team Singapore's contingent left in two batches, with the first group flying off last Thursday and the second on Sunday.

"The mood generally is good. They (the athletes) are positive, they are staying very focused," she said. "We are almost at the starting block."

Here's what we can look ahead to for Team Singapore at the Tokyo Paralympics:

1. Singapore's most decorated Paralympian takes to the pool

Swimmer Yip Pin Xiu's success in the pool is unparalleled. The 29-year-old made history at the last edition of the Paralympics when she won two gold medals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Competing in the women's 100m backstroke S2, Yip set a world record time of 2:07.09. Her split timing of 59.38 in the first lap of the event was also a world record time. Both world records still stand today.

Swimmer Yip Pin Xiu. PHOTO: Sport Singapore

A week later, Yip would go on to win the 50m backstroke S2 event and became the first Singaporean to win two golds at the Paralympics.

Prior to her triumph in Rio, Yip wrote her name in the history books when she became the first Singaporean to reach gold at the Paralympics after winning the 50m backstroke S3 event at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.  She also has a number of World Championships and Asian Para Games medals to her name. Apart from her achievements in the pool, Yip, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as a child, is also a former Nominated Member of Parliament.

Singapore's most decorated Paralympian will compete in both the 50m and 100m S2 events in Tokyo, at what will be her fourth Paralympics outing.

2. A world-class archer aims high

Another potential medal hope for Singapore is archer Nur Syahidah Alim, who is currently ranked second in the compound women open individual world rankings. The 36-year-old boasts a stellar resume, having been the first Singaporean to become a world champion in para-archery after she won gold at the 2019 World Archery Para Championship. Later that year, she also clinched gold at the 2019 Asian Para Archery Championships in Bangkok.

Nur Syahidah Alim took the gold on June 8, 2019, at the World Archery Para Championship. PHOTO: World Archery

She topped the world rankings in October 2019 and was only recently pipped to the top spot by Briton Jessica Stretton, who is the reigning Paralympics defending champion. 

This will be Syahidah's second Paralympics outing, after she was eliminated in the quarterfinals at the 2016 Games.

3. Some familiar faces and other new ones

The Paralympics are a familiar affair to Singapore's equestrians Laurentia Tan, Gemma Foo and Maximillian Tan. Laurentia Tan for one, has won multiple medals at the Paralympics — taking home two bronzes in the 2008 Games and a silver and a bronze in the subsequent edition. Foo and Maximillian Tan also competed in both the 2012 Games as well as the 2016 Games.

This will be the fourth Games for Laurentia Tan, who will partner Foo and Maximillian Tan for the trio's third Paralympic participation in the dressage team event. Singapore's flagbearer at the Tokyo Games will be Muhammad Diroy Noordin, who will feature for the second time after he competed in the men's shot put F40 and javelin F41 events at the Rio Games.

Equestrians Gemma Foo (left), Laurentia Tan (centre) and Maximillian Tan will compete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. PHOTOS: Gemma Foo, Laurentia Tan, Maximillian Tan

There will be Games debuts for powerlifter Nur’Aini Mohamad Yasli, cyclist Steve Tee, as well as swimmers Toh Wei Soong and Sophie Soon.

Noting that athletes' preparations for the Games have been disrupted by the pandemic, Ms Low noted that the objectives for each may be different, and the targets are not necessarily a podium finish.

"Everyone has overcome (adversity) in some way. They are very resilient, I'm personally very impressed by every one of them," she said.

"We expect our athletes to be performing at their best, to try their best. So whatever medals we get will certainly be a sweetener, would be a bonus."

Covid-19 cases in Tokyo have hit unprecedented highs over the last month, with the city now registering a seven-day average of about 4,700 new cases a day, close to a new peak set last week.

The Japanese government's state of emergency declaration last month has not curbed the spread of the virus, and these restrictions were further extended last week. The state of emergency is now due to end on Sept 12.

On the other hand, the number of cases associated with the Olympics has not exploded as some expected. 

As of Sunday, a total of 547 cases associated with the Games were recorded by organisers. These include athletes, volunteers and media among others. Held in a bubble, athletes were required to undergo daily testing and were only allowed to travel between competition venues and their accommodation at the Games Village. Similar arrangements will be made for Paralympians.

And as with the Olympians, Singapore's contingent headed to the Paralympics will take additional precautions above what have been outlined by the Tokyo 2020 organisers, the Singapore National Paralympic Council said previously. Among other measures, all in the contingent are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and have also undergone an additional influenza vaccination. 

Ms Low noted that there will be no changes to the precautionary measures put into place by Team Singapore despite the rising numbers of cases in Tokyo and Japan. However, she emphasised the need for the contingent to "stay vigilant and disciplined" during their time there.

"Tokyo (2020) has done quite a good job. At the same time, we — Singapore itself, the Team Singapore support structure — have also come up with a lot of other measures ... I can't think of anything more we can do, we just have to continue and be disciplined," she said. CNA

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Paralympic Games Tokyo Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 Japan Team Singapore SNPC

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