Paralympics 2020: Tokyo heat biggest challenge for GB athletes with one year to go

GB celebrate after the Rio Paralympics
Great Britain won 147 medals - including 64 golds - at the Rio 2016 Paralympics

High temperatures will be the biggest challenge athletes will face at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, says British Para-triathlete Claire Cashmore.

With one year to go until the Games, daily temperatures in the city in August have averaged almost 35 Celsius.

Organisers and the International Paralympic Committee are "monitoring the situation".

Cashmore has recently returned from a test event in Tokyo and said the conditions were "very tough".

The race was moved to earlier in the day to help deal with the soaring temperatures and then changed to a duathlon because of concerns over the water quality in Odaiba Bay.

"I've probably never raced in conditions like that before," she told BBC Sport.

"Obviously we have no control over the heat and humidity. It's never going to be comfortable, it's never going to be a nice race but it's just respecting it and preparing the best you can.

"The British were the best prepared team on the start line and the results showed that, even with the change of format.

"Organisers need to make sure the race is at the right time and I'm hoping they have learned from this year and realised we need to compete early in the morning when it is slightly cooler."

'An incredible Games'

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic medals
Tokyo 2020 organisers have unveiled the medal design for next year's Games

Next year will be the second time the Games have been staged in Japan's capital city after it also hosted the 1964 event.

About 4,350 athletes from more than 160 countries will compete from 25 August-6 September in 22 sports with 540 golds up for grabs.

At the Rio 2016 Paralympics, Great Britain won 147 medals - including 64 golds - to finish second on the medal table behind China.

Para-badminton and Para-taekwondo have been added to the programme for next year, replacing sailing and seven-a-side football.

And after various issues blighted the build-up to Rio, the pressure is firmly on the Japanese to host a spectacular Games.

"Tokyo feels much more prepared than Rio," added Cashmore, who switched from swimming to triathlon after winning relay gold in Rio and will be hoping to compete in her fourth Games next year.

"I really do feel that they are trying to make it really special and trying to make it that everyone has the best experience possible.

"I think they are going to put on an incredible show and it's going to be an incredible Games."

'How do we recreate the success of Rio?'

ParalympicsGB have earned almost 50 slots for Tokyo 2020 across eight sports so far with Para-canoe adding to the total in the last week.

ParalympicsGB chef de mission Penny Briscoe anticipates that the overall team size will be similar to Rio where 251 athletes represented Great Britain, and she is confident that the 2020 team will be able to make a big impact.

"Rio was a games of superlatives so the challenge is how do we recreate that success?" she told BBC Sport.

"There has been a rise in global competition standards across all sports, which is the biggest challenge for us.

"The current indications are that all of the sports are in a good place. We have massive medal potential across the team. I was recently with shooting and judo who feel they have some scores to settle. They didn't necessarily deliver what they wanted in Rio and will come back stronger.

"We will have returning Paralympians who want to retain their crowns and debutants who want to come in and show what they are capable of.

"It feels quite positive but there is still a huge amount of work to do over the next year."

Para-taekwondo athlete Amy Truesdale
British Para-taekwondo athlete Amy Truesdale is currently ranked number one in the world and is hoping to make her debut in Tokyo

Changing mindsets and inspiring the next generation

Research commissioned by a Japanese advertising and PR company has shown that, with one year to go, the awareness and interest in Paralympic sport in Japan is higher than it was in the UK 12 months before the London 2012 Games.

Yet, according to IPC president Andrew Parsons, one of the biggest challenges faced by organisers has been the lack of accessible rooms in Tokyo.

Parsons told BBC Sport organisers have been "very diligent" in solving such issues, but added that a "change in perception" is the biggest ambition for next year's Games.

"We are targeting a change of mindset towards people with disabilities because you don't see them on the street [in Japan]," he said.

"They have a mentality of overprotection for people with disabilities so you don't see them moving around. It's a cultural barrier and that is what we want to tackle in Japan.

"It's about the mentality of Japanese society, but the good thing is that if you speak with the government or you speak with the organising committee, they understand that it needs to change. We want to use the Games as a catalyst for that change."

Cashmore said: "I have found being in Japan, I haven't seen many people with a disability.

"I hope that they really embrace it and I hope that it can also make a lot of changes to the way people with a disability are perceived over there, and make it more acceptable and hopefully raise the profile of a lot of the Japanese Para-athletes."

On Thursday, a ticket lottery opened for residents in Japan with tickets priced between 900 yen (£6.97) and 7,000 yen (£54.19).

Events have been scheduled at times suitable for families and children with the organising committee keen to "enhance the family atmosphere" at venues.

Parsons said: "If we are targeting kids and families, they are the future decision makers so that is the biggest legacy we want to see from the Games."

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