Paralympic athlete Mohammed Al Hammadi races from despair to triumph

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games have been a rollercoaster ride for Mohammed Al Hammadi but, as Will Jones reports, the Emirati racer ended on a high by winning the UAE’s second gold medal

Mohammed Al Hammadi’s gold medal in the men’s T33/34 800m at the Rio Paralympics shouldn’t have been a surprise. The 31-year-old from Sharjah is one of the best wheelchair racers in the world, and has the medals to prove it: silver and bronze at the London 2012 Paralympics, plus three silvers and a bronze at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha last year.

Even so, Al Hammadi has long raced in the shadow of Tunisian athlete Walid Ktila, who has dominated his sport for years. After taking two golds at London 2012, Ktila swept the board at the World Championships in both 2013 and 2015, winning gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m. On Wednesday night, Ktila went into the final of the T33/34 800m as the clear favourite.

For the first 700m or so, the race seemed to follow the formbook. Ktila led going into the final straight and seemed a certainty for gold. But an immense effort by Al Hammadi hauled him past the Tunisian and into first place, a position he held until crossing the line. In setting a new Paralympic record of 1:40.24, just 0.07 ahead of his rival, he had won the UAE’s second gold medal of Rio 2016 in stunning style.

Al Hammadi’s triumph represented a massive turnaround from his disappointing start to the Games. In elite sport, fourth place is often considered the worst position to finish – so near to a medal, yet so far from the podium – but that was the fate that befell Al Hammadi in his first event of the Paralympics.

The Emirati athlete was one of the pre-Games favourites for the T34 100m. But in the final on Monday night, he missed out on a medal – as in London, Ktila won gold ahead of Rheed McCracken of Australia, with Henry Manni of Finland pipping Al Hammadi to bronze.

However, all that disappointment was forgotten on Wednesday night. Showing immense courage and determination, Al Hammadi took his place at the top of the podium on the sport’s biggest stage.