Tokyo 2020 Paralympics briefing: GB’s gold rush and a TikTok star shines

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Today in a nutshell: five golds for Great Britain, TikTok star Anastasia Pagonis is one of many athletes to smash world records, but there’s concern as one member of a Paralympic support team has been admitted to hospital with Covid symptoms.

Tomorrow’s key moments: there are more medal opportunities in the swimming and at the velodrome, the wheelchair tennis tournament starts, and so does the rowing.

Jaco van Gass celebrates winning the gold medal. Photograph: Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

There was another medal one-two at the velodrome in a successful day for ParalympicsGB. Jaco van Gass won gold with his teammate Fin Graham picking up silver in the men’s C3 individual pursuit. Van Gass, an Afghanistan veteran who lost his left arm in a Taliban grenade attack in 2009, broke the world record in qualifying and proved stronger in the gold medal race, securing victory by just over a second.

Jody Cundy picked up a silver in the men’s C4-5 time trial which was won by Spain’s Alfonso Cabello Llamas. Cundy becomes the first British man to win medals at seven Games, having started his Paralympic journey in Atlanta in 1996. Aileen McGlynn also took silver along with her pilot Helen Scott in the women’s B time trial. Larissa Klaassen of the Netherlands won gold in that race with a new Paralympics record.

Aileen McGlynn and Helen Scott in the velodrome. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

Great Britain also won their first swimming golds after both Maisie Summers-Newton and Tully Kearney set new world records in winning their events. Kearney added S5 women’s 100m freestyle gold to the silver she earned in the 200m event on Wednesday. The 24-year-old from Nottingham said “I don’t think I have words to describe that – shock really. I didn’t expect to be able to go that quick. I said yesterday my fitness wasn’t where I wanted it because of the injury. Today I felt rubbish in the warm-up, I felt terrible in the heats, struggling to recover from yesterday and sore shoulder and I was not expecting to be able to swim that quick. That is just insane.”

Tully Kearney celebrates winning the gold medal after competing in the women’s 100m freestyle S5 final. Photograph: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Ellen Keane has won Ireland’s first medal of the 2020 Games, claiming gold in the SB8 100m breaststroke. The 26-year-old from Clontarf overtook New Zealand’s Sophie Pascoe with 25m to go, and held on to touch first. After the race she told RTÉ: “When I dove in my goggles filled up with water but I think that was maybe a good thing because I couldn’t see where the girls were around me. Just on the turn I saw Sophie a little bit but I just had a game plan in mind and I stuck to that.”

Ellen Keane of Ireland in action with those water-filled goggles. Photograph: Marko Đurica/Reuters

Also in the pool China took the mixed 4x50m freestyle relay, and there were also gold’s for the Russian Paralympic Committee’s Andrei Kalina, Colombia’s Nelson Corzo Crispin, Italy’s Stefano Raimondi and Ikar Boki of Belarus. The Netherlands struck gold twice through Rogier Dorsman and Chantalle Zijderveld.

There’s been a serious development away from the sport though, with organisers saying that “a foreign participant” at the Paralympics – not an athlete, it appears – has been taken to hospital with non-severe symptoms of Covid. There have been two more positive cases among athletes.

And there has been criticism of the International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach’s decision to return to Tokyo for the opening Paralympics ceremony. He was later spotted sightseeing around the famous Ginza shopping area, an activity forbidden to athletes.

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The briefing’s picture of the day

Amarilla Veres won Hungary’s first gold of the Games with victory over China’s Jing Rong in the women’s individual Épée category A contest. The category B gold for women went to Tan Shumei, adding to the four golds that China won in the wheelchair fencing yesterday. The athlete from the RPC, Alexander Kuzyukov, took gold in the men’s category B. You can see more of the best pictures from the day in our gallery.

Amarilla Veres celebrates with defeated Jing Rong looking on. Photograph: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸 Team USA update

Seventeen-year-old Anastasia Pagonis cheered Team USA – and her millions of fans on social media – after winning her country’s first gold of the Tokyo Paralympics. The teenager was racing in the first major international competition of her career but was already one of the highest-profile athletes coming into the Tokyo Games. She has more than 2m followers on TikTok, where she uses her platform to give an insight into the life of a blind athlete – as well as introducing fans to her co-star, guide dog Radar. She finished more than 10 seconds ahead of the field to win gold in the 400m freestyle S11, setting a world record. She will race in the 200m medley and the 50m and 100m freestyle in the coming days.

Gold medalist Anastasia Pagonis. Photograph: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

An hour later Gia Pergolini added a second US pool gold, with victory in the women’s 100m backstroke S13 final. She also set a world record.

The US wheelchair rugby team scored a 58-54 win against Canada, which sets them up for a final group game tomorrow against Great Britain with both sides knowing that they are already guaranteed a semi-final spot. Britain beat New Zealand 60-37 in the other game in their preliminary group.

🇬🇧🇬🇧🇬🇧 ParalympicsGB update

Sir Lee Pearson claimed the 12th Paralympic gold medal of his distinguished career by winning the grade two individual dressage on home-bred horse Breezer. Great Britain’s flag-bearer from Rio 2016 triumphed in Tokyo with a score of 76.265. His compatriot, Georgia Wilson, took bronze on her Paralympic debut in the same grade, riding Sakura and scoring 72.765. Sanne Voets of the Netherlands won the grade four gold.

Georgia Wilson and her horse Sakura. Photograph: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

In the grade five final, Sophie Wells took silver on Don Cara, behind Belgium’s Michele George and Best of 8. A late replacement for her usual partner Fatal Attraction, afterwards Wells said she went in with no expectation or pressure because it was Don Cara’s first international competition. “He’s so sensitive and such an anxious character. My hope for him is just that he becomes confident in himself and actually believes in himself. He deserves to be here, and he trusted me in the arena which was just a huge thing.”

There was also a British gold medal for the wheelchair fencing world champion Piers Gilliver in the men’s category A épée. The 26-year-old from Gloucestershire beat Russian Maxim Shaburov 15-11. Fellow British fencer Dimitri Coutya picked up bronze in the men’s category B. “I’m a little overwhelmed but very happy,” said Gilliver, who exited the sabre contest on Wednesday at the last-16 stage. “Maxim has been a huge rival of mine for years, so I just focused on my own game plan and executed it as best I could.”

Gold medalist Piers Gilliver celebrates on the podium. Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

In table tennis, reigning class seven champion Will Bayley was among three players to book quarter-final spots.

There was a mixed day in the wheelchair basketball. The ParalympicsGB men convincingly beat Algeria 70-43. However, the women succumbed to a second defeat in two days, losing 54-48 to hosts Japan. It doesn’t make it impossible for them to make the quarter-finals yet, but their remaining matches against Germany and Australia look like must-wins.

Terry Bywater and Lewis Edwards fist bump after competing. Photograph: Bernadett Szabó/Reuters

There was disappointment for Zoe Newson in the powerlifting as the Chinese athlete Guo Lingling set a new world record in a fourth, extra “power lift” round. Newsom had been aiming for a medal at a third successive Paralympic Games, but fell well short of her personal best in a tense final. Lingling gave a display of dominance however, breaking the Paralympic record with her very first lift.

Lingling Guo celebrates after her lift in the fourth round of the Powerlifting women’s 41kg category. Photograph: OIS/Joe Toth/REX/Shutterstock

🇯🇵🇯🇵🇯🇵 The hosts and beyond

There was an international spread to the gold medals in the powerlifting. As well as Lingling’s victory, there were golds for Omar Sami Hamadeh Qarada of Jordan, Latifat Tijani of Nigeria and David Degtyarev of Kazakhstan in their respective categories.

Japan’s Takayuki Suzuki delivered a first gold medal of the Tokyo Games for the hosts. He won the men’s 100m freestyle S4, setting a new Paralympic record, but didn’t even realise at first. “I couldn’t see the moment I had finished the race, so I didn’t know if I was in first place, but when I saw on the scoreboard that I was in first place, I was so happy,” Suzuki said.

Takayuki Suzuki on his way to Japan’s first gold. Photograph: Adam Pretty/Getty Images

🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺 Australia update

Luke Henriques-Gomes has a piece for us today profiling cycling silver medallist Darren Hicks, who has had a life of brutal lows and unexpected highs.

After my accident, my wife was the only person that could make the decision as to whether we would amputate or not amputate. Knowing that my life had always revolved around BMX in particular since I was 10, it was a huge decision, because to her that was sort of crushing my dreams. Getting to the Paralympic Games and competing is my way of showing that she made 100% the right decision.

Darren Hicks of Australia in action in Tokyo. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

Did you know?

It is only since the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and the Winter Olympics of 1992 in Albertville that the Olympics and Paralympics have automatically taken part in the same cities and venues after an agreement between the IPC and IOC. Prior to that the Games would be held in the same year as the Olympics, but in different host cities.

Key events for Friday 27 August

All events are listed here in local Tokyo time. Add an hour for Sydney, subtract eight hours for Birmingham, 13 hours for New York and 16 hours for San Francisco.

🌟If you only watch one thing: 9.30am-1.33pm and 7pm-9.50pm Athletics – the Paralympics athletics programmes gets under way Friday, and there are immediately 13 gold medals available across the two sessions. Highlights include the men’s 5000m T11 final for for athletes with a visual impairment, and then later in the day there are men’s medals in 100m races, plus a series of distance heats for the women. There are also medals to be won in men’s F37 shot put and T11 long jump, which women compete for T11 long jump and F41 shot put 🥇

  • 9am-10.46am and 5.00pm-7.33pm Swimming – the medals are in the evening session, with 14 finals in total. Britain’s Reece Dunn will be looking to add to the silver medal he’s already won at these Games in the men’s 200m freestyle S14 final. Once again he goes into it as a world champion, once again he will most likely be up against Brazil’s Gabriel Bandeira who pipped him for gold in the men’s S14 100m butterfly final on Wednesday. Either side of that Hannah Russell will be defending her Rio backstroke title, and Bethany Firth will defend her 200m freestyle S14 crown. 🥇

  • 9am-8.30pm Wheelchair basketball – there are ten preliminary matches, with the highlights looking to be USA men against Iran at 4.45pm and ParalympicsGB women v Germany at 8.30pm.

  • 9.30am-11.50am Rowing – it is the first day for the Paralympics at the Sea Forest Waterway with a bunch of heats.

  • 10am-3.47pm Track cycling – Friday opens with the women’s C1-3 500m time trial, and then the final hour features finals for the men’s C1-3 1000m time trial, the women’s C4-5 500m time trial, and then the men’s C4 and C5 4000m individual pursuit finals 🥇

  • 10.30am-1.30pm and 4pm-6.40pm Judo – the second session is an absolute medal-fest with bronze and gold medal bouts in the women’s -48kg and -52kg categories, and the men’s -60kg and -66kg 🥇

  • 11am Wheelchair tennis – the tennis tournament begins.

  • 11am-6.30pm Powerlifting – four more categories go for gold, starting with the men’s -59kg final, followed by the women’s -50kg, women’s -55kg and the men’s -65kg 🥇

  • 11.30am-8pm Wheelchair rugby – there are four pool matches in the mixed contest, of which the USA v Great Britain at 5.30pm looks to be the most entertaining. They are both through to the semi-finals already, and will be hoping to meet each other again Sunday’s final.

  • 4pm and 7.14pm Equestrian – first up is the Grade I dressage individual test, and then second is the extraordinarily precisely timed Grade III dressage individual test 🥇

  • 5.30pm-7.30pm Wheelchair fencing – the competition lasts all day but from 5.30pm it is the medal contests in both the men’s épée team and women’s épée team 🥇

As it stands

Here’s how the emoji table stood at 11pm Tokyo time:

1 🇨🇳 China 🥇 8 🥈 5 🥉 10 total: 23
2 🇬🇧 Great Britain 🥇 6 🥈 8 🥉 3 total: 17
3 ◻️ Not Russia 🥇 6 🥈 5 🥉 6 total: 17
4 🇦🇺 Australia 🥇 6 🥈 2 🥉 6 total: 14
5 🇳🇱 Netherlands 🥇 5 🥈 3 🥉 1 total: 9
6 🇮🇹 Italy 🥇 4 🥈 4 🥉 3 total: 11
7 🇮🇹 USA 🥇 2 🥈 2 🥉 0 total: 4
8 🇧🇾 Belarus 🥇 2 🥈 0 🥉 0 total: 2
9 🇺🇦 Ukraine 🥇 1 🥈 6 🥉 2 total: 9
10 🇧🇷 Brazil 🥇 1 🥈 3 🥉 4 total: 8

Useful links

Interactive medal table | Full results service | Paralympic Games classification guide

Get in touch

Kadeena Cox goes tomorrow in the women’s C4-5 500m time trial in the velodrome, defending the title she won in Rio in 2016. She is in the rare position of competing in two totally different sports – athletics and cycling – which has bought additional complications in a Covid-affected Games. She told me: “My cycling is out in Izu which is three hours away from the village, so we are in a different village. I think without Covid I would have been able to use an athletic track here, but we’ve not been able to get access. So I’m doing my training sessions on the golf course. I didn’t ever expect to be doing training sessions on the fairway. I’m not sure the people that have to then play golf on it approve of me doing that, but it is what it is.”

Kadeena Cox in 2017. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Cox is one of the ambassadors for a Virgin Media campaign using the hashtag #WeAreHere which is aiming to show public support for ParalympicsGB as their family and friends can’t be with them in Japan. Her preparation has been disrupted by injury, but she said to me “I’m in a really positive place at the moment. I had a few really good sessions before I left to come out here, which showed kind of little flecks of where I am, but I haven’t done the preparation that I wanted.”

Also in a positive place is Jill Henry from Australia. She contacted me to say “I love the Paralympics as I have very fond memories of the two weeks here in Sydney in 2000. All the participants and indeed those not selected to participate, as well as their coaches and support, deserve the utmost admiration for their courage and resilience.”

Do get in touch with me at, and if you’ve got a spare couple of minutes, why not do the silly weekly quiz that I write for the Guardian website as well.

The last word

Lee Pearson and his horse Breezer. Photograph: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

It’s a cliché, but the horses lend me their legs. I’m rubbish dancing at a nightclub, but bearable dancing in the dressage arena – Lee Pearson

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