The 2012 London Paralympics generated unprecedented interest for the Games in five countries for a reason of their own. Athletes from Chile, Ethiopia, Fiji, Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan won their first ever Paralympic medals, thereby making history in their countries. Interestingly, all the five athletes were men.
On September 3, Christian Valenzuela, a 29 year old, visibly impaired athlete from Chile, took part in the T11 1500m final and missed a medal by a whisker. But, four days later, he competed in T11 5000m final and comfortably won it with a time of 15:26:26, a personal best. T11 events are for athletes with serious visible impairments and they use a guide to compete. Valenzuela's guide was Christopher Guajardo. (watch the video here) This was a welcome medal for the South American nation which had failed to win a medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
If Chile can be proud of her athlete, the Fijians can be doubly proud. As the Fiji Times reported, Iliesa Delana, a 27 year old athlete from their small island state "jumped into history" when he won the F42 high jump event. In his event, he jumped 1.74m with one leg, recording a personal and regional best. This was the first ever medal for any Fijian in any Olympic Games, not only the Paralympics. Also, it was the first gold medal in Paralympics for any South Pacific nation. "I am deeply honoured and like many here today to speak on all our behalf in thanking Iliesa Delana in his outstanding performance in winning a gold medal in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London," President of Fiji, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau could state with no hesitation.
Ethiopia has always been a notable nation in middle and long distance races in athletics. However, they have been conspicuously absent or has been a low key participant in Paralympics. Although they started taking part in Paralympics in 1968, they have been absent more than they were present in the Games. Even when they arrived, they fielded one or two athletes only. In 2012, they fielded four athletes including a female athlete. Wondiye Fikre Indelbu, a 24 year old T46 middle distance runner from Ethiopia, won the silver medal in the men's T46 1500m race to give his country the first ever Paralympic medal. We can hope that Ethiopia will be a more active participant in the Paralympics in the future.
Sri Lanka's Pradeep Sanjaya, an Army soldier wounded in late 2008, won the bronze medal for the men's T46 400m event giving the island nation its first Paralympic medal. Sri Lanka has performed commendably in the Asian level but this was their first success at the Paralympic level. (If you have not read my post on Pradeep Sanjaya, you can do so from here)
Therefore, out of the participants who won the first Paralympic medals for their countries in 2012, four were in track and field events. The only other athlete to win the first ever medal for his country was 23 year old Uzbek judoka, Sharif Khalilov. He won the silver medal in men's 73 kg judo.
1. Owen Gibson, The Guardian, Paralympics closing ceremony review: an emotional and fiery finale, Sep. 10, 2012.
2. Gold for Chile, chileno.co.uk
3. London2012.com, Christian Valenzuela
4. London2012.com, Men's 5000m T-11
5. Daniel Boyle, Chile’s Cristián Valenzuela Takes Fourth in Paralympic 1500m Final, Sep 3, 2012.
6. Rashneel Kumar, Delana Jumps into History, Fiji Times, Sep. 04, 2012
7. Timoci Vula, President Congratulates Delana, Fiji Times, Sep. 13, 2012
8. London2012.com, Wondiye Fikre Indelbu
9. London2012.com, Sharif Khalilov.