When Paralympians outrun Olympians

Abdellatif Baka of Algeria winning the 1,500m T13 category for visually impaired athletes. The top four runners all had a better time than the 3:50.00 clocked by the United States' Matthew Centrowitz to win the same event at the Rio Olympics on the same t
Abdellatif Baka of Algeria winning the 1,500m T13 category for visually impaired athletes. The top four runners all had a better time than the 3:50.00 clocked by the United States' Matthew Centrowitz to win the same event at the Rio Olympics on the same track. PHOTO: REUTERS

First 4 visually impaired runners in 1,500m have faster timings than Rio Olympics winner

RIO DE JANEIRO • Over the past week of competition at the Rio Paralympics, several world records have been broken.

But this one was special.

On Monday, four men broke new ground when they smashed the winning time set in the 1,500m final at last month's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Competing in the Paralympics men's 1,500m T13 final for visually impaired athletes, the top four finishers all ran faster than 1,500m Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz (3:50.00).

The four did not achieve that feat racing in wheelchairs or on artificial blades. The T13 race is exactly the same as the Olympic race, except for the fact that the runners are visually impaired.

Abdellatif Baka of Algeria stormed to gold in a world record time of 3:48.29, followed by Tamiru Demisse (3:48.59) of Ethiopia and Henry Kirwa (3:49.59) of Kenya.

  • Times of the Paralympics 1,500m T13 race medallists

  • 3:48.29
    Abdellatif Baka (Algeria)

    3:48.59
    Tamiru Demisse (Ethiopia)

    3:49.59
    Henry Kirwa (Kenya), all of which were quicker than

    3:50
    Time of Matthew Centrowitz when he won the gold medal in the Olympic 1,500m final.

Remarkably, Abdellatif's brother Fouad, who just missed out on the podium with a fourth place, finished in 3:49.84, which would still have been fast enough to get Olympic gold.

"It wasn't easy to get this gold medal," Abdellatif said after winning a historic race. "I've been working one or two years non-stop, and it's been very, very hard for me."

There are three classes for visually impaired runners - T11, T12 and T13 - with T13 classification the least severe.

So, vision was the only handicap for the four compared to able-bodied athletes.

But then was their accomplishment of Olympic standard?

Not quite.

The 1,500m run at the Olympics and the T13 1,500m cannot be compared because there are too many variables.

A lot depends on the track, the temperature on the day, the field and the tactics - for talent alone is not enough to win an Olympic 1,500m race.

Often there are athletes who set the early pace. But, if no one ventures to take the early lead, the pack will be content to remain together until the last 500m, where someone will break out to lead the final charge to the finish line.

The Olympic 1,500m race was a slow affair - a deliberate strategy by the American winner.

Centrowitz took the lead at the start and controlled the pace - fighting off all attempts at overtaking him, so that he could coast to victory with a late push.

His winning time was 24 seconds off the world record and would not have won gold at any Olympics since 1932 - not even a medal in the last 16 Olympics.

The fourth-placed finisher at the 1936 Berlin Games ran the same time as Centrowitz did 80 years later.

But the 26-year-old can run much faster.

In the qualifying race at the Olympics, he ran 3:39.31, while the fastest qualifier was Jakub Holusa of the Czech Republic (3:38.31).

Centrowitz's personal best, set in Monaco last year, was more than 20 seconds faster.

The world record (3:26.00) belongs to Morocco's Hicham el Guerrouj, set in 1998.

The T13 race had a quick pace from early in the race, but the winning time would not have even earned a "B" qualifying cut for the United States track team.

Still, the achievement by the four Paralympians cannot be ignored. For they have proven that they are more than capable of matching the best of their able-bodied counterparts.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2016, with the headline 'When Paralympians outrun Olympians'. Print Edition | Subscribe