Kgothatso Montjane and Charl du Toit wrote their names down in South Africa’s Paralympic history as they led their country out at the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Games at the Olympic Stadium on Tuesday night.
Montjane, who is competing at her fourth Paralympic Games and Du Toit, who is at his third Games, carried the South African flag into the stadium watched by a global audience of millions.
There were also 75 members of the public who were inside the Tokyo Stadium. This was part of a ballot which selected 161 people from 5,500 applicants, with 75 tickets going to the opening ceremony and 89 for the closing ceremony (three were given tickets to both).
Countries paraded according to the Japanese alphabet, as they had at the Tokyo Olympics, which meant that they were at No 141, between Malaysia and South Sudan. The wait, though, was worth the while for Montjane, the wheelchair tennis ace, and star track-sprinter Du Toit.
“I am incredibly honoured to be named as one of the flag bearers for a very talented Team SA alongside KG Montjane,” Du Toit had tweeted before the ceremony. I will cherish these memories for the rest of my life!”
The opening ceremony organisers embraced the theme ‘We Have Wings’ to raise awareness of the courage of Paralympians who are trying to spread their wings “no matter which way the wind blows”.
The Games were officially declared open by Japanese Emperor Naruhito.
The Paralympics have transformed in the past 57 years. Back in 1964, there were 375 athletes from 21 nations competing in nine sports. This year there will be 4,500 athletes from 162 nations competing in 539 events across 22 sports.
The International Paralympic Committee estimates that 4.25-billion people from 177 nations around the world will tune in for some of the action over the next 13 days.
There are two members of Team SA in action on Wednesday. Alani Ferreira takes to the pool in the women’s 100m butterfly (S13 classification) and Theo Cogill takes on Austria’s Krisztian Gardos in their Classification 10 Group D match, after 9am SA time.
So, in true time-honoured fashion, let the Games begin!