TOKYO (AFP) - Afghan athlete Zakia Khudadadi, who escaped Kabul after the Taliban takeover, competed in taekwondo’s Paralympic debut in Tokyo on Thursday, as cycling queen Sarah Storey became Britain’s most successful Paralympian ever.
With four days left before Sunday’s closing ceremony, Morocco prepared to take on five-a-side Goliaths Brazil in the semifinals, and romance was in the air in the Olympic Stadium with a surprise post-run proposal.
Khudadadi, one of two Afghanistan team members evacuated from the Taliban-controlled country, fought in the Paralympics’ first-ever taekwondo match, the day after badminton made its long-awaited first appearance.
She looked stoic ahead of her bout against Uzbekistan’s Ziyodakhon Isakova, emerging from behind a curtain to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”.
The Afghan won the first round 6-5, but fell behind in the second, eventually losing the match 17-12. She has another chance to advance in the afternoon’s repechage round.
Officials have said neither Afghan Paralympian will speak to the press in Tokyo, prioritising the athletes’ well-being.
“We’ve left them be for the last few days, just to focus on competition, because that was their dream to compete,” International Paralympic Committee spokesman Craig Spence said Thursday.
“We’ll now start to have conversations about what happens in terms of the closing ceremony, and where they go next.”
Meanwhile, British cycling legend Storey returned to the Fuji International Speedway to claim her 17th Paralympic victory in the women’s C4-5 road race.
The indomitable 43-year-old’s golden hat-trick in Tokyo makes her the most decorated British Paralympian -- dethroning swimmer Mike Kenny, who won 16 golds between 1976 to 1988.
“In that last descent I didn’t touch my brakes, I just went for it,” she said after the race, which went ahead in treacherous cool, wet and foggy conditions.
The victory left her “overwhelmed”, she told Channel 4 TV. “I feel like it is happening to someone else... but crossing the line first felt so good.”
Later on Thursday, Morocco’s five-a-side team takes on Brazil, who have never lost a match at the Paralympics and are targeting their fifth straight gold in Tokyo.
Morocco is the only African team competing in the sport, and defender Imad Berka has said they want to “honour the continent” with a place on the podium.
Japanese wheelchair tennis star Shingo Kunieda reached the finals after trouncing Britain’s Gordon Reid 6-3, 6-2 in a thrilling match full of graceful rallies.
Kunieda told public broadcaster NHK that his strategy had been to “hit proactively from the start, without worrying about making mistakes”.
It means Japan has a chance of winning two singles golds, with Yui Kamiji due to face Dutch world number one Diede de Groot in the women’s final on Friday.
Belgian wheelchair tennis player Joachim Gerard was rushed to hospital on Wednesday after he suddenly felt faint, the country’s Olympic Committee said.
The 32-year-old -- who competed from Saturday to Monday -- has regained consciousness and “first research is pointing towards a cardiac issue”, it said in a statement.
The Tokyo Paralympics have so far avoided any major coronavirus clusters, although 275 positive tests have been reported by organisers overall, mostly among Japan-based staff and contractors.
On Thursday they confirmed 13 new cases, all but one of whom live in Japan, as the country battles a surge in infections driven by the more infectious Delta variant.
In the soggy Olympic Stadium on Thursday, Cape Verde’s Keula Nidreia Pereira Semedo failed to qualify for the women’s T11 200m semifinals -- but there was a surprise consolation.
After the race, her guide runner Manuel Antonio Vaz da Veiga got down on one knee and proposed. Video of the magic moment showed both athletes beaming as Semedo accepted.
“Now I have an additional motivation to carry on after the Games, always with him by my side,” she said.