Jessica Lewis to fly the flag alone at Paralympic Games
Jessica Lewis will be Bermuda’s sole representative competing at the rescheduled Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, this summer.
The wheelchair sprinter is busy continuing her preparations for the Games, scheduled to be held from August 24 to September 5, having already secured her qualification spot after finishing fourth in the in the women's 100m T53 final at the 2019 World Championships in Dubai.
However, because of the Covid-19 pandemic all but wiping out last year’s sporting calendar, three of the island’s Paralympic hopefuls — Steve Wilson, Omar Hayward and Yushae DeSilva-Andrade — were ultimately denied the opportunity to secure their spots in the sport of boccia, owing to an absence of international competitions to earn the required world ranking points.
Athletes could qualify only by winning their respective regional championships in the year preceding the Paralympic Games or by building up ranking points at different events held across the world.
It is a particularly unfortunate situation for former Paralympian DeSilva-Andrade, who competed at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, having been reclassified from BC2 competitor to BC1 in late 2019 without being able to carry over her previous world-ranking points.
“Jessica [Lewis] will be our only Paralympian competing in Tokyo because unfortunately none of the boccia players were able to qualify,” said Jennifer Southern, the Bermuda Paralympian Association secretary-general.
“Last year was a real shame for the three of them. Due to the pandemic, none of them could compete overseas anywhere to qualify or earn enough world-ranking points.
“It’s particularly unfortunate for Yushae because her classification changed, to what it should have been previously, but sadly her previous ranking points didn’t carry over with her and she’s had no opportunity to build them up.
“It’s incredibly unfair because it’s through no fault of her own. She moved into the classification she should have been in before, but her previous points don’t move with her.
“I know all three were really looking forward to and were confident about trying to qualify throughout last year, but obviously that didn’t happen.
“However, I’m confident they will qualify again in the future and we have can look forward to them hopefully competing at the 2024 Games in Paris.”
While Lewis is due to compete, the Paralympics actually being held has once again been thrown into doubt with the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.
Tokyo was put into a state of emergency by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga this month as a result of a sudden spike in cases, leading to Southern calling for the guaranteed safety of competitors ahead of the Games, with para-athletes more susceptible to the dangers of Covid-19.
“I know there are uncertainties still with the Olympic Games and so if they are ultimately cancelled there is no way the Paralympics will go ahead,” she added.
“It’s all still up in the air at the moment and we just have to hope that Tokyo manage to get things under control a bit more because you have to be able to guarantee the safety of para-athletes.
“You only have to look at the tennis players who have recently contracted Covid-19 while travelling to the Australian Open. You can’t take those risks with para-athletes because they are more at risk with the virus.
“At the moment, it is a case of heading into the complete unknown, really, in terms of what the Games will be like if they go ahead. They won’t be like previous Paralympics, that’s for certain.”
Should the Paralympics proceed, Southern conceded that because of a lack of competition before the event, it is almost impossible to gauge how Lewis may fare in Tokyo, despite the 27-year-old previously being considered among the medal contenders ahead of a 2020 Games.
“The medals could be a bit of a free-for-all; you don’t really know what might happen,” she said. “All I know is Jessica is extremely motivated and she’s stronger than she’s ever been before. She’s really confident and is working extremely hard to be ready for the Games.
“All we can do as an association is support her the best we can and hope things improve as the Games get closer.”