A common question about the Paralympic games is how big is the gap between this competition and the Olympic games. How would a paralympic tennis player fare against an Olympic tennis player, how much faster are paralympic runners than Olympic runners? The comparison, of course, isn’t fair. The Paralympic games exist for those with disabilities to allow them to compete on the world stage. To put them against Olympic athletes would make no sense. However, in the 2016 games, three paralympic runners finished with a faster time than the corresponding Olympic gold medalist.
When Abdellatif Baka of Algeria crossed the finish line to win Gold at the Paralympic games he had achieved something incredible. Not only had he defeated his competitors to win the most important race of his life but he had recorded a time that was faster than the gold medal winner at the Olympic games earlier that year. Baka recorded a time of three minutes and 48.29 seconds for a 1500m race while the Olympic champion Centrowicz had won gold at a time of three minutes and 50.00 seconds.
Even more remarkable is that the Paralympic athletes who came second, third and fourth all finished with times faster than Centrowicz! The Paralympians competed in the T13 1500m race which means the race is for those with a visual impairment of a certain grade. There are two other classes T11 and T12 for athletes with a more severe visual impairment. This shows that they were otherwise able-bodied and therefore not relying on any assistance to complete the race. They recorded these amazing times based on their own ability.
While Centrowicz’s time marks the slowest Olympic victory since 1932 nothing should be taken from any of these athletes. The 1500 meter race is notoriously strategic. Races can be fast or slow depending on how the pack sets out. At the Olympics, the pack set out unusually slow allowing Centrowicz to take the win and allowing the time to be bested by the Paralympics as well.
While the Paralympics is always an amazing contest as we get to witness athletes overcoming incredible adversity to record some of the most incredible feats that humanity can achieve it is not to be looked at as a lesser achievement than the Olympics. This race clearly shows that both sets of athletes are pushing human capabilities further with every competition that takes place.