Four Paralympic Runners Finished Faster Than Rio Olympic Gold Medal Time
Disabled middle-distance runner Abdtellatif Baka of Algeria destroyed the 1500m Paralympic world record after winning gold at the Rio Paralympic Games on Monday. That's a feat that's impressive enough on it's own, but what's particularly incredible is that his time beats that of 1500m Rio Olympic gold medal winner Matthew Centrowitz by more than 1.7 seconds.
As stated in The Independent, Baka's historic performance stands as the fastest 1500m time recorded by an able-bodied or disabled athlete in Rio over both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Baka finished the sub-one-mile race (0.9320568 miles to be exact) in three minutes and 48.29 seconds to win gold. The American Olympic champion Centrowicz finished at three minutes and 50.00 seconds at the Olympic Games in August
That's an athletic achievement that is on par with anything we saw at the Rio Olympics last month. And it's not even the craziest part of the story.
Not only did Abdtellatif Baka beat Centrowitz's Rio gold medal winning time, but so did the second, third and fourth-placed finishers in the T12/13 final. Ethopian's Tamiru Demisse won silver with a time of 3:48:49, Kenya's Henry Kirwa won bronze with a time of 3:49:59 and Abdellatif's brother Fouad Baka finished in 4th place with a time of 3:49:84. All four runners are in the T13 class except for Kirwa who is in T12.
According to the Layman's Guide to Paralympic Classification, athletes with a T13 sport class have the least severe visual impairment eligible for IPC Athletics; and are the only of the three visual impairment classes that are not permitted to use a guide. Athletes with a T12 sport class are more visually impaired than those in T13, but do not have as severe impairment as those in T11.
All of this is to say that under the right circumstances, Abdellatif Baka - or any of the other top four 1500m Paralympic finishers - could very likely have won gold at the Rio Olympics. Hi guys, Hollywood called and they want their crazy inspirational sports stories back.
Of course, there is another angle to all of this that must be considered: which is that this year's 1500m results at the Rio Games were scrutinized for being remarkably slow. Centrowitz's gold medal time in 2016 was actually an astounding 15 seconds slower than his fourth-place time in London in 2012; and the slowest since the 1932 Los Angeles games. You may recall that those games had historically low attendance due to the Great Depression, and - as the LA Times notes - only 1,503 athletes from 37 nations showed up. So few in fact that some events, like soccer, had to be canceled.
To put all of this into further perspective: the long-held world record is three minutes and 26 seconds, set by legendary Moroccan middle-distance runner Hicham El Guerrouj in Rome in 1998. For Centrowitz to win gold running 24 seconds off the world record pace is an anomaly in a race as short as the 1500m.
So the detractors will tell you, with statistics to back it up, that the achievements of these Paralympic runners are more of an indictment on the pace of the Olympic race than anything else. That's certainly an understandable but cynical view. Because on the other hand we must also always remember that the nature of sports allows for ebbs and flows. Climate, temperatures and accommodations fluctuate year-to year, particularly with the Olympics, and therefore the performance of the athletes does as well.
According to Weather Underground, temperatures in Rio hit a high of 80 degrees Fahrenheit on Aug 20th: 3 degrees warmer than the historical average high temperature. Average humidity that day was 82. Four years earlier in London when the race was run on Aug. 7, the high temperature hit just 68 degrees Fahrenheit: 6 degrees cooler than the historical average high temperature. Average humidity that day was 77.
So take all of that for what you will. At the end of the day, those four Paralympians outran the Olympic champion. That's what will deservedly go down in the record books for eternity.
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