The Tokyo Paralympic Games have come and gone. As we reflect on the Games and its successes and major takeaways, we can’t help but wonder…what is next? Leading up to and throughout the Games, I made a few observations that really stood out, including:
- TV Coverage: For the first time in history, the television coverage of the Games was amazing! So many of us have been waiting for this level of coverage for a looongggg time. Even the replays of the Games continue on the Olympic Channel, bringing even more awareness. My hope is that young kids may have watched some of the Games, and as we all know, “if you see it, you can be it.” I hope that disabled kids and their parents are asking questions, reaching out, and finding out where they can play and compete. Of course, there are opportunities and room for improvement as I know some had to rely on streaming platforms to watch and had challenges accessing various events. We’ll see how the Beijing Winter Games stack up in terms of visibility and coverage. My hope is that the Tokyo Games set the baseline for continued mainstream coverage.
I was also impressed with NBCSN commentators steering clear from “inspiration porn” and acknowledging Paralympians as the badass athletes they are.
Overall, my wish is that the coverage will lead to more conversations about disability and how it’s a normal part of everyday life – it’s not bad, not negative, not sad. I hope it helps initiate conversations that touch on strength, opportunities, and how people with disabilities can also be relentless and focused on pursuing their passions, which in this case, is sport.
Will the coverage mean more support financially for the U.S. adapted sport movement? Let’s hope so! Perhaps the coverage can lead to more support for athletes in the form of sponsorship, so they can continue to pursue their sport at the highest level without worrying about making ends meet.
- Innovation: The innovation of custom competition chairs is astounding. The bar continues to rise every four years. The customization and technology used to build this equipment undoubtedly played a factor in so many world records falling on a daily basis.
- Congrats to the Not-So-Mainstream Sports: I know many of us watched world records fall each day in the pool and on the track, but hats off to Team USA’s table tennis and Para equestrian teams for each bringing home three medals and to our Para taekwondo athlete Evan Medell for winning bronze in the very first competition. These sports have limited budgets, but continue to be focused and relentless in developing athletes to compete at the highest level and reach the top of the podium.
- Humanity: I was so incredibly moved with the efforts across the world to get the two Afghan athletes to Tokyo to compete once they escaped Afghanistan. This is what global sport is really about. It’s about more than the medal count and world records, but instead, working together for the betterment of people, society, and humanity. This is the power of sport.
Now what? I’ve had a Tokyo Games post-mortem with a few folks in my network to get their thoughts on the Games and Team USA’s performance. We all agreed on one thing – it sure would be great to have some sort of centralized structure within the U.S. to identify and develop athletes. Countries like Great Britain, Australia, and Japan have much smaller populations than the U.S. but have developed high-result medal producing programs. China dominates and Russia is also a top-tier medal producer. Prior to the recent Games coverage, far too often we hear how athletes discovered sport by coincidence or happenstance. And, to shine at LA2028, we should start working on this now.
Yes, I realize that the USOPC is structured differently than most Olympic and Paralympic Committees and we don’t have a centralized sport ministry, but we need to be innovative in our approach as to how we identify talent and develop elite athletes with disabilities in the United States.
Our Olympic Team comes out on top of the medal count, why not the Paralympic Team? Is the USOPC satisfied being 4th or 5th in the Paralympic medal count? What strategies need to be implemented that will create more opportunities for individuals with disabilities to pursue sport and not have the introduction by happenstance?
I’d love to hear your observations and takeaways from the Tokyo Games. What stood out, impressed you, or got you thinking? Share in the comments below or on social media!