FOLLOWING the disappointment of having only one athlete and one team sport qualify for the Rio Paralympic Games, the Zimbabwe National Paralympic Committee (ZNPC) is already focusing on the Tokyo 2020 Games after striking training and coaching partnerships with their Japanese counterparts. BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
Visually-impaired athlete Laina Sithole along with a four-member para-rowing team will represent the country at the Paralympic Games set for Rio next month.
ZNPC was looking to send a bigger number of athletes this time around, especially in the priority sport which is athletics, after managing to send only a few to the London 2012 Games.
The Paralympic Committee has since entered into a partnership with the national Paralympic Committee of Japan in which the Japanese would periodically send specialists to train local athletes and coaches from various disciplines in the run up to the Tokyo Games.
Zimbabwe Rio Paralympics team chief de mission Witness Magugula, told Standardsport that the ZNPC was already looking beyond the imminent global games to be hosted in Brazil.
“We had hoped to carry at least four athletes to Rio to compete in track and field events, that was our desire. We are now looking beyond Rio as we partner National Paralympic Committee of Japan, which is sending their coaches to train our athletes and coaches in Athletics, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis. This is all in preparation for Tokyo 2020,” Magugula said.
Two weeks ago the ZNPC had hoped to qualify more athletes for Rio when they took a four-member team, including Sithole for the Berlin Open— one of the last qualifiers for the Rio Paralympics, but it ended in disappointment.
Two female athletes, Sithole and Karen Kasvenhemare — both visually-impaired — as well as two males, Edmore Solomon, an amputee athlete and Shepherd Gumede, a visually-impaired athlete, made the trip to Germany.
Katsvenhemare, Solomon and Gumede all missed out while Sithole had already qualified for Rio through Bipartite Invitation and had gone to Berlin strictly for classification. She will compete in Class T13 100m in Rio.
Gumede met the BQS qualifying time in 100m but the slots for such qualifying criteria were filled up in June.
However, the team brought home one gold medal, two silver medals and a bronze medal from the Berlin Open.
Despite the recent failures, Magugula still believes Paralympic sport is on the rise in the country.
“Paralympic sport in Zimbabwe is on the rise considering that we are now an organised movement; we have now developed an athlete base to choose from for upcoming competitions,” he said.