Not one, but four 1,500-meter runners in the T13 class (a category for the visually impaired) at the Paralympics finished faster than American Matthew Centrowitz, an able-bodied runner who won gold in the same event at the Rio Olympics a month ago.
The winner, Abdellatif Baka of Algeria, won the T13 1,500m final 1.7 seconds faster than Centrowitz, crossing the line in 3 minutes, 48.29 seconds (Centrowitz’s time stands at 3:50.00). Not only did Baka set a new Paralympic world record, but he also ran the fastest 1,500m time of both the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games. (At the Paralympics there are two other classes for the visually impaired, T11 and T12, with the lower numbers ranking higher in impairment severity.)
In the tightly contested final, Ethiopia’s Tamiru Demisse earned second in a time of 3:48.49. The third and fourth place finishers—Kenya’s Henry Kirwa, 3:49.59, and Baka’s brother Fouad Baka, 3:49.84—also finished the distance faster than Centrowitz. That means any one of these four Paralympians could have contested for gold at the Rio Olympics. (It should be noted that Centrowitz prevailed in a classic sit-and-kick style final that was not likely to produce a blazing fast time.)
After winning, Baka said, “It wasn’t easy to get this gold medal. I’ve been working one or two years non-stop and it’s been very, very hard for me.”