Your guide to the Tokyo Paralympics

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The Paralympic flame will be lit to signal the opening of the Games on Tuesday, August 24 in Tokyo.

CBC will have live coverage of the event beginning at 6 a.m. ET followed by continuous Games coverage through the closing ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 5.

Before the action gets underway, here’s your guide to the Tokyo Paralympics:

Why do the Paralympics exist?

They began as the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948 with a group of 16 injured British World War II veterans competing in archery in London. By 1960, the meet evolved into the Paralympics as we know it today that are run alongside the Olympics. The International Paralympic Committee wasn’t founded until 1989.

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Canadian Paralympian Alison Levine helpfully pointed out some misconceptions about the Games in a recent tweet, including the fact that Para is short for parallel — as in next to the Olympics, and not paraplegic. For athletes, the Paralympics are equal in magnitude to the Olympics, though the Paras lag behind in funding and public consumption.

Who competes?

A record 167 countries are sending athletes to Tokyo, surpassing the 164 represented at London 2012. The number in Japan was supposed to be 168, but Afghanistan’s two athletes — including its first-ever female Paralympian — are unable to leave Kabul amid the Taliban’s takeover of the country.

In total, about 4,400 athletes will attend the Paralympics, as opposed to the roughly 11,000 Olympians who competed earlier this month. Those Paralympians experience a range of disabilities, from reduced muscle power to vision deficiency and developmental impairment.

Which sports are contested?

With the addition of para taekwondo and para badminton, athletes will compete in 22 different sports in Tokyo, where about 1,500 medals will be awarded.

Other events include staples like swimming, athletics, archery, rowing and wheelchair basketball as well as the lesser known goalball (designed for the visually impaired, teams of three essentially trade turns throwing a ball to beat a goalie), five-on-five soccer (known officially as football 5-a-side) and boccia (similar to bocce, throwing balls as close to a target as possible).

As with the Olympics, organizers announced earlier this week that there would not be spectators in the stands.

Where does Canada fit in?

Canada is sending 128 athletes to compete in 18 different sports in Tokyo. At the 2016 Paralympics, Canada won 29 medals, including eight golds, to finish 14th overall. Read more about Canada’s full delegation here.

The country’s record for a Summer Paralympics is 238 medals set in 1984, a Games which included the right combination of fewer countries (54) and more events (2,774 total medals) for Canada to boost its total.

Which Canadians should I keep an eye out for?

Archer Karen Van Nest and wheelchair rugby player Patrice Simard are back for their sixth Olympics.

Brent Lakatos, owner of seven medals in athletics, will compete in his fifth Games. He’ll be joined on the track by fellow Canadian Nate Riech, making his Paralympic debut. Both were in fine form as of May when Riech lowered his own world record in the T38 1,500 metres and Lakatos won gold medals in the 100m and 800m at the same meet.

After battling multiple leg injuries, Marissa Papaconstantinou is healthy and ready to compete in sprint events.

In swimming, Aurélie Rivard is back for more after winning three golds and one silver in Rio. She hasn’t competed since before the pandemic, but says she’s inspired by Canada’s Olympians to overcome both her lack of competition and the lack of fans in Tokyo.

And after skipping Rio, wheelchair basketball player Patrick Anderson, called by some the Michael Jordan of his sport, is back for one final Paralympics. In his previous four appearances, Canada won three golds and one silver. In 2016 without Anderson, Canada placed 11th. We covered some of Canada’s potential stars in more detail here.

How can I watch?

CBC has live coverage throughout the Paralympics. During competition days, you’ll find live sports on TV between 3-5 p.m., 7-8 p.m. and midnight-2 a.m., all times E.T. Check your local listings for possible adjustments.

Meanwhile, as many as 12 events will be live streamed every day on and CBC Gem. Check out the full coverage plan here.

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