Swimmer Iyad Shalabi has become the first ever Arab-Israeli to triumph at either the Olympics or Paralympics, winning gold in the 100m backstroke in Tokyo.
Israel has traditionally performed significantly better in the Paralympics than the Olympics, with 375 medals won over the years — the latest of which was Shalabi’s history-making effort.
The 34-year-old’s story, like many at the Games, is an inspirational one. Shalabi was born deaf-mute before suffering paralysis of all his limbs in an accident aged 13.
Having narrowly missed out on a medal after finishing fourth in Beijing 2008 and London 2012, Shalabi leapt to the top of the podium after seeing off the challenge of Ukraine’s Anton Kol and Italy’s Francesco Bettella in the 100m backstroke final.
Shalabi, who was born to a Muslim family in Shfar’am, trains in Haifa at a center supported by the Israel Association for Children with Disabilities.
Israel’s culture and sports minister, Chili Tropper, was one of the first to congratulate Shalabi on his gold, saying: “Iyad is an inspiring man whose life has been full of victories.”
“And today, another great victory. Iyad wasn’t frightened by the high expectations, aimed high and filled us all with pride. We are proud of you, Iyad Shalabi!”
Qarada wins Paralympic gold for Jordan
Jordanian powerlifter Omar Qarada claimed a dramatic gold with victory in the men’s 49kg category on Thursday.
Qarada, who won silver in both Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016, finally took home the top prize ahead of long-time foe Le Van Cong of Vietnam.
Le beat Qarada in Rio but this time the Jordanian turned the tables, winning his country’s second-ever Paralympic gold in dramatic style.
Both men lifted 173kg. However it was Qarada who triumphed due to the fact he is lighter than Le, meaning his lift was deemed more difficult.
The weight difference, 47.21kg to 47.31kg, was just 100 grams.
“I speak a lot to Le. He is a friend,” Qarada said afterwards. “In Rio the same thing happened, we both lifted the same weight on our third lift, but in Rio it was Le stealing my gold medal.
“Today it was me who was able to steal the gold medal from him.”
Qarada is 40, but insisted he has no intention of retiring and already has his eye on defending his title at the next Paralympic Games in 2024.
“It is a dream come true, but it’s just a stepping stone for Paris, where I promise I will set a new world record.”
• The 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games continues until September 5.
Mark is a Dubai-based writer who has couch-surfed through Ukraine, broken bread with football fans in Basra, and appeared on a boxing reality TV show in the UAE – all in pursuit of a good story. Or at least an average anecdote.