Paralympics powerhouses: 10 global stars to follow in Tokyo

Show caption Zahra Nemati (left), Jessica Long (centre) and Parfait Hakizimana will be going for gold at the Tokyo Paralympics. Composite: Reuters; PA Images; UNHCR Tokyo Paralympic Games 2020 Paralympics powerhouses: 10 global stars to follow in Tokyo Look out for long jumper Markus Rehm, US swimming sensation Jessica Long and British stalwart Dame Sarah Storey Guardian sport Sat 21 Aug 2021 09.00 BST Share on Facebook

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Zahra Nemati, Iran (archery)

Like Rehm, Nemati, now 36, is hoping to win a third successive gold medal in Tokyo to back up the individual recurve medals won at London 2012 and Rio 2016. The individual gold won in London was the first by an Iranian woman in either the Olympic or Paralympic Games. She competed in the Rio Olympics in 2016 and carried the flag at the opening ceremony. Nemati competed in taekwondo before a car accident in 2004 resulted in spinal cord injury.

Markus Rehm, Germany (athletics)

T64 world record holder Markus Rehm will be going for his third successive Paralympic title in Tokyo. Photograph: Tytus Żmijewski/EPA

Rehm is a double men’s long jump gold medallist, aiming for a third successive Paralympic title in Tokyo. In June, the German athlete broke his own T64 men’s long jump world record by 14cm, taking it out to 8.62m. Rehm, who turns 33 on Sunday, had his right leg amputated below the knee aged 14 after a wakeboarding incident and is known as the Blade Jumper having had designs to follow “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius into Olympic competition. However, having been denied participation at Rio 2016 he was once again excluded from this year’s Olympics. And as he prepared for the Paralympics this week he said the International Olympic Committee had missed an opportunity “to send out a message of inclusion”.

Hannah Cockroft, GB (athletics)

Hannah Cockroft has won five Paralympic gold medals, including the 100m at London 2012 (pictured) and Rio. Photograph: David Davies/PA

The wheelchair racing star has five golds from two previous Games and will compete in the T34 100m and 800m. “Hurricane Hannah” underlined her credentials by lowering her own world records in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m at the Weltklasse am See, meeting in Switzerland in May while at the end of June she was first in the mixed classification 400m wheelchair race at the British Athletics Championships in front of Sammi Kinghorn and Mel Woods.

Jessica Long, United States (swimming)

Long, born Tatiana Olegovna Kirillova in Russia, has held many world records since winning three gold medals aged 12 on her Paralympic debut in Athens in 2004. She has competed at four Games, winning 23 medals – 13 of them gold – making her one of the most successful athletes in Paralympics history. She has also won over 50 world championship medals. Long, who was adopted from an orphanage aged 13 months suffering from bone deformation in her legs, gained a huge new audience when her early life story was used as Toyota’s 2021 Super Bowl commercial.

Parfait Hakizimana, Refugee team (Para taekwondo)

Hakizimana, 33, lives in Rwanda’s Mahama refugee camp where he has been based since fleeing civil war in his native Burundi in 2015. After losing his arm at the age of eight, when he was shot during an attack in which his mother was killed, he later took up taekwondo and now competes internationally while also training around 150 refugee children living in the camp of around 60,000 people. Hakizimana, who will compete in the under-61kg category in Tokyo where his sport makes its debut, has said: “Refugees don’t have a lot. But sport helps them forget their troubles.”

David Smith, GB (boccia)

David Smith has won four gold medals across his three Paralympics, including individual victory in Rio (pictured). Photograph: Carlos García Rawlins/Reuters

Reigning Paralympic and world champion boccia star Smith will be competing at his fourth Paralympics. The 32-year-old has won four medals from his previous three Games, including team gold at Beijing 2008 and individual gold five years ago in Brazil. Remarkably Smith remained unbeaten at annual English Nationals and GB Championships from 2004 until 2016 when he stopped competing at them to concentrate on his international career, clocking up a record 15 British and 11 national titles in that time.

Ellie Cole, Australia (swimming)

Ellie Cole, pictured in 2016, is the reigning 100m backstroke S9 champion and preparing for her fourth Games. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Cole had her right leg amputated due to cancer aged three yet only eight weeks after the amputation, she took up swimming as part of her rehabilitation and proved a natural at the sport as she grew up in the Melbourne suburbs. Now 29, she is in Tokyo for her fourth Paralympics. Cole is the reigning champion in the 100m backstroke S9 and has 15 Paralympic medals to her name since her debut at Beijing 2008 – six of them gold.

Dame Sarah Storey, GB (cycling)

If Sarah Storey, who has 14 golds to her name, defends her three titles from Rio she will become Britain’s most-decorated Paralympian. Photograph: Alex Broadway/

Storey, who began her career as a swimmer but switched to cycling in 2005 reputedly because of a persistent ear infection, is set for her eighth Games this time around and in with a shot of surpassing Mike Kenny as Britain’s most-decorated Paralympian. Successful defences of her C5 individual pursuit, C5 time trial and C4-5 road race titles will move her on to a remarkable 17 gold medals, and will put her one ahead of Kenny, another former swimmer.

Shingo Kunieda, Japan (wheelchair tennis)

Shingo Kunieda captains Japan’s Paralympics squad and returns for his fifth Games. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Kunieda was this week named as the captain of Japan’s largest ever Paralympic delegation. The two-times Paralympic men’s singles champion said that he hoped the Games would inspire all children across the country: “I hope many children in Japan, regardless of having disabilities or not, can feel the infinite possibilities of humankind by watching para sports.” The 37-year-old, who has used a wheelchair since the age of nine due to a spinal tumour, has won three golds and two bronze medals across four Paralympic Games, starting with doubles gold at Athens 2004.

Kadeena Cox, GB (athletics and cycling)

Kadeena Cox won medals across two sports in Rio. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

A sprinter from an early age, Cox entered Para athletics in 2015 after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She also began cycling in the same year and at Rio 2016 Cox won three medals in athletics with gold in the T38 400m, silver in the 4x100m and bronze in the 100m while she also completed a remarkable achievement by claiming a gold medal in cycling with victory in the C4-5 time trial to become the first British Paralympian for 32 years to win medals in two different sports.