Lonely Planet Writer

Top four 1500m Paralympians finish faster than Olympic gold medalist

In what is being called one of the most incredible moments in Paralympic history, Algeria’s Abdellatif Baka wasn’t quite satisfied with merely setting a Paralympic world record in the 1500m at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, he took things to the next level.

Abdellatif Baka (centre) shows off his gold medal alongside Tamiru Demisse (left) and Henry Kirwa
Abdellatif Baka (centre) shows off his gold medal alongside Tamiru Demisse (left) and Henry Kirwa
Image by Getty Images

Baka’s stunning performance in the T13 1500m final on Monday clocked in at 3:48.29, ousting not only his nearest competitor, Ethiopia’s Tamiru Demisse, by a hiccup, but besting the able-bodied gold medal time in the equivalent event at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games by a full 1.7 seconds as well. This makes Baka’s performance the fastest 1500m time recorded by an able-bodied or disabled athlete in Rio over both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

But the wow doesn’t end there. In addition to Baka’s stunning performance, Demisse, bronze medalist Henry Kirwa of Kenya and the fourth place finisher, Algeria’s Fouad Baka, all ran faster than able-bodied American Matthew Centrowitz’s winning time of 3:50.00 in the Rio Olympics.  Did we mention the two Bakas are brothers as well?  “It wasn’t easy to get this gold medal,” said Baka, who has a moderate visual impairment, after his incredible race. “I’ve been working one or two years non-stop and it’s been very, very hard for me.”

Abdellatif Baka manages to hold off Tamiru Demisse in the historic 1500m final at Rio's Olympic Stadium
Abdellatif Baka manages to hold off Tamiru Demisse in the historic 1500m final at Rio’s Olympic Stadium.  Image by Bob Martin/Rio 2016

As for Centrowitz, he was a bit of a surprise victor in Rio, running the slowest gold medal winning time since 1932, but winning a highly-tactical race over Kenyan favourite Asbel Kiprop. Adding a bit of additional intrigue to the mix, Centrowicz also beat Algerian Taoufik Makhloufi, the event’s defending Olympic champion from London 2012, at Rio, so Baka’s win restored a bit of national pride in addition to everything else.

It’s not the first time a disabled athlete has outperformed an able-bodied Olympian in the same event. South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius did so at London 2012, when he raced in both the Olympics and Paralympics (the first double-leg amputee to ever do so), beating several able-bodied runners when he finished second in his preliminary 400m heat (it’s also not uncommon for archers, table tennis players, swimmers and equestrians to compete in both events). Wheelchair race times are often faster than able-bodied race times in several events as well. Baka’s accomplishment, however, is special – it was done without the added advantage of technology.

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