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News posted on Thursday 9th September, 2021

Reflections on Tokyo 2020 – interview with Fiona Allan, Chief Executive, PNZ

Fiona Allan with Wheel Blacks Mike Todd and Hayden Barton-Cootes in a team selection announcement

We caught up with Paralympics New Zealand Chief Executive Fiona Allan as she is now in MIQ along with the rest of the New Zealand Paralympic Team following the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

If you could sum up Tokyo 2020 in one word, what would it be?

If one word sums up the Tokyo 2020 experience it is pride. I have so much respect for our Paralympians who went to Tokyo in the face of the massive disruption and delays caused by Covid.

The performances that our Paralympians delivered were outstanding. The medals, the Paralympic records, Oceania records and personal bests. 29 Paralympians including 8 that were part of the Wheel Blacks, went to Tokyo. For 18 of them, it was their first ever Paralympic Games making their debut. To have delivered 12 medals, six of them gold, is a phenomenal result. 97% of all Paralympians achieved a top 8 finish in at least one event, a critical marker of success as this was one of the key selection criteria by which Paralympians were selected to the New Zealand Paralympic Team. These achievements compare well globally – New Zealand placed 3rd in the world for gold medals per capita and 4th in the world for overall medals per capita.

Pride is what shone through on the faces of our Paralympians after giving it their all in Tokyo. And pride, I believe is what New Zealanders felt, seeing them do it.

We saw bravery on display in spades. We saw the likes of Nikita Howarth compete with the pain of a broken arm which had not yet healed and William Stedman who had developed a stress fracture in his back just a week before departure. That’s to say nothing of the pressure to succeed – we saw that in Sophie Pascoe’s brave and open post-event interviews, as well as from other Paralympians.

Each Paralympian was a winner before they even competed in Tokyo, just getting there in the disrupted and uncertain build up was a feat. They are champions of mental toughness, and champions of flexibility and adaptability.

What were your favourite moments of Tokyo 2020?

There were many favourite moments in Tokyo, here are just a few.

We started Tokyo 2020 seeing the Wheel Blacks charge back into the Paralympics after 13 years.  They went into the Paralympics as underdogs, with a much smaller team than any of their rivals, and they made each team work hard to beat them.

Tupou Neiufi was first to strike gold for New Zealand with her elegant backstroke. She proudly took the podium and we heard our national anthem play for the first time.

Lisa Adams storming to victory in the shot put has to be one of the most memorable moments of the Paralympics. She was dominant from her first throw, breaking the Paralympic record… and then doing it again, and again, and a fourth time! Seeing the fist bump with fellow Kiwi shot putter Caitlin Dore shows the support this team has given each other through the Paralympics.

Sophie Pascoe won a third of the team’s 12 medals and whilst she was already our most decorated Paralympian, and we can now say she is our most successful Paralympian with 19 medals, 11 of them gold, to her name. Pascoe is the first New Zealander to have won this many gold medals at the summer Paralympic Games – a feat fewer than 40 Paralympians have matched globally.

Holly Robinson and William Stedman, both gave us dramatic cliffhanger moments when they saved their best for last – Holly winning gold on her final javelin throw and William winning silver in his final long jump. I was at both of these events supporting in the stands at the stadium and these were very exciting and memorable moments.

Anna Grimaldi went out with a clear goal to defend her Rio 2016 gold medal in the long jump. She soared to glory and her smile was once again bright enough to light up the whole of Tokyo.

Another smile that caught the hearts of all of us here in Tokyo as well as many viewers at home was that of sprinter Danielle Aitchison. Danielle swept to the podium in the Women’s 200m T36 and the Women’s 100m T36 winning first silver and then bronze.

Our cyclists trained hard for the Tokyo heat and powered to strong finishes in both track and road races. Anna Taylor and Nicole Murray pushed the limits on the track breaking a Paralympic record and placing 4th respectively.

It was thrilling to watch Scott Martlew charge through his Para canoe KL2 heat into first place. The podium finish only just slipped out of reach by a fine margin in the final.

And finally Michael Johnson who has now competed at his 5th Paralympic Games in a row, an achievement which has only been matched in Shooting Para sport by Colin Willis.

What did the New Zealand Paralympic Team’s success mean for New Zealanders?

We saw huge public support for an event that is part physical triumph, part mental strength and part cutting edge science. Many New Zealanders discovered what a riveting watch the Paralympics are and were inspired by our New Zealand Paralympians and all Paralympians from across the globe.

1.8 million people watched the Paralympics coverage – despite the time difference meaning that events were often late at night. We had 1.2 million people see our Facebook posts, and nearly 400,000 reactions, comments, shares and clicks. The growth of Para sport is huge and the support from New Zealanders to support the Paralympic Games is awesome to see.

With only six months to go before Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, there’s more exciting Paralympic sport to come for New Zealanders. And with only three years to go to Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, it’s an exciting time to follow Para sport.

It’s also an exciting time to get involved in Para sport – the number of people registering to get started with Para sport is currently at five times usual levels. I’m thrilled to see the next generation of Para athletes being inspired and taking this first step on the pathway to Paris 2024, Milan 2026 or Los Angeles 2028.

The Paralympic Games are a great platform to assist in changing attitudes towards disabled people and we hope that through enjoying the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games that there was some shift in some perceptions and attitudes.

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, by the numbers

  • 29 Kiwi Paralympians, including 11 returning athletes and 18 debutants in the New Zealand Paralympic Team
  • The New Zealand Paralympic Team included 13 female and 16 male Paralympians
  • 6 Para sports were competed in – Para swimming (4 athletes), Para cycling (6 athletes), Shooting para sport (1 athlete), Para athletics (8 athletes), Para canoe (2 athletes), Wheelchair rugby (8 athletes)
  • 37 staff supported the New Zealand Paralympic Team
  • 49 separate events were contested in these 6 Para sports by Kiwi Paralympians: Para swimming 13 events, Para cycling 17 events, Para canoe 3 events, Wheelchair Rugby 1 event, Para athletics 12 events, Shooting Para sport 3 events
  • Kiwi Paralympians competed in 75% of the finals out of the 49 events contested
  • 3 Paralympic records were set by New Zealand
  • 97% of our Kiwi Paralympians had a top 8 finish in at least one event
  • 12 medals won by New Zealand – 6 Gold, 3 Silver and 3 Bronze
  • 7 individual Paralympians won medals
  • 3rd in the world for gold medals won per capita
  • 4th in the world for medals won per capita
  • 21st in the world for overall medals won
  • Sophie Pascoe became the most successful New Zealand Paralympian of all time now having won a total of 19 medals including 11 gold medals across 4 Paralympic Games.

Medals won by the New Zealand Paralympic Team at Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

GoldPara athleticsLisa AdamsWomen’s Shot Put F37
GoldPara swimmingSophie PascoeWomen’s 200m IM SM9
GoldPara swimmingSophie PascoeWomen’s 100m Freestyle S9
GoldPara swimmingTupou NeiufiWomen’s 100m Backstroke S8
GoldPara athleticsAnna GrimaldiWomen’s Long Jump T47
GoldPara athleticsHolly RobinsonWomen’s Javelin Throw F46
SilverPara swimmingSophie PascoeWomen’s 100m Breastroke SB8
SilverPara athleticsDanielle AitchisonWomen’s 200m T36
SilverPara athleticsWilliam StedmanMen’s Long Jump T36
BronzePara athleticsDanielle AitchisonWomen’s 100m T36
BronzePara swimmingSophie PascoeWomen’s 100m Backstroke S9
BronzePara athleticsWilliam StedmanMen’s 400m T36

Records and personal bests set by the New Zealand Paralympic Team at Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

RecordPara athleteEvent
Paralympic recordLisa AdamsWomen’s Shot Put – F37 Final  
Paralympic recordAnna GrimaldiWomen’s Long Jump – T47 Final  
Paralympic recordAnna TaylorWomen’s C4 3000m Individual Pursuit
Oceania recordBen TuimaseveMen’s Shot Put – F37 Final  
Oceania recordWilliam StedmanMen’s Long Jump – T36 Final  
Oceania recordAnna StevenWomen’s 200m – T64 Round 1 Heat
Oceania recordDanielle AitchisonWomen’s 100m – T36 Round 1 Heat
Personal bestJesse ReynoldsMen’s 100m Backstroke – S9 Heat
Personal bestAnna TaylorWomen’s C4 3000m Individual Pursuit Qualifying
Personal bestNicole MurrayWomen’s C4-5 500m Time Trial Final
Personal bestSarah EllingtonWomen’s C1-3 3000m Individual Pursuit Qualifying
Personal bestAnna StevenWomen’s 200m – T64 Round 1 Heat

Para swimming

Sophie Pascoe – #166

Nikita Howarth – #179

Tupou Neiufi – #201

Jesse Reynolds – #205

Para cycling

Sarah Ellington – #213

Stephen Hills – #196

Eltje Malzbender – #220

Nicole Murray – #222

Rory Mead – #221

Anna Taylor – #225

Wheelchair rugby

Cody Everson – #214

Hayden Barton-Cootes -#212

Robert Hewitt – #216

Tainafi Lefono – #218

Gareth Lynch – #219

Gavin Rolton – #223

Mike Todd – #226

Barney Koneferenisi – #217

Para canoe

Scott Martlew – #198

Corbin Hart – #215

Shooting Para sport

Michael Johnson – #148

Para athletics

Lisa Adams – #210

Danielle Aitchison – #211

Catlin Dore – #192

Anna Grimaldi – #195

Holly Robinson – #183

William Stedman – #208

Anna Steven – #224

Ben Tuimaseve – #227

– ENDS –

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