“After so many years of so much hard work, it was great to celebrate this achievement with my coach, my family and my friends, and share it with my compatriots.”
With 83 countries reaching the podium at Rio 2016, the most ever at a Paralympic Games, a major feat was achieved, showing the constant growth of the Paralympic Movement around the world.
This achievement makes it to No. 2 in the International Paralympic Committee’s Top 50 Moments of 2016.
Kazakhstan (one gold), Georgia (one gold), Malaysia (three golds), Uzbekistan (eight golds) and Vietnam (one gold) topped the Paralympic podium for the first time ever, whilst Cape Verde, Mozambique, Qatar and Uganda won their first medals.
New Zealand capped off their best Paralympic Games, claiming nine golds, five silvers and seven bronzes to finish 13th in the medals table and as the world’s No.1 country for medals per capita.
After taking three golds and two silvers in Rio, swimmer Sophie Pascoe became the country’s most decorated athlete.
“The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games was hugely successful for Para sports in New Zealand. The team performed exceptionally both on and off the field of play and the public fully embraced and celebrated their achievements,” said Paralympics New Zealand CEO Fiona Allan.
“There is no doubt that New Zealand Paralympians have inspired many and have, whilst doing so, increased awareness, understanding and acceptance of disability in society.”
Another country that stood out was Uzbekistan, which made its Paralympic debut only 12 years ago, in Athens, Greece.
The Asian nation won its first medal at London 2012, a silver through judoka Sharif Khalilov, and 37 more at Rio 2016, made up of eight golds, six silvers and 17 bronzes.
“London 2012 was the country’s third participation at the Paralympic Games so we still had to learn a lot. And we did,” Navruza Yuldasheva, Uzbekistan National Paralympic Association Executive Director, explained.
“We have sponsors so we have the money to help the athletes prepare in the best possible conditions.
“During recent years, we have been organising training camps and Uzbekistani coaches attended some others abroad to gain more knowledge.”
For Malaysia, 10 September was a historical day since they sealed their two first Paralympic golds. Mohamad Puzi sprinted to victory in the men’s 100m T36, whilst Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli followed that up with gold in the men's shot put F20.
“I have made a lot of sacrifices. I have been training hard to get here. The result is for my family, my country and for all Malaysians. This is the result of my life,” said Zolkefli.
Another country that enjoyed huge improvement during recent years was Colombia, which won 15 more medals in Rio than in London. This included two Paralympic titles, putting an end to a 36-year-long gold medal drought.
“We implemented a strategy covering the whole Colombian sport in every region, club, national federations and institutes to raise awareness of the importance of developing Para sports,” said David Acosta, Colombian Paralympic Committee Sporting Director.
“For this period of four years, Para athletes had the support they had never had before. Besides, we conducted a study to check in which sports we had more chances of winning medals at the Paralympic Games and focused our efforts on those, prioritising them.”
Argentina was another country that returned to glory by claiming their first Paralympic gold medal in 20 years through sprinter Yanina Martinez in the women’s 100m T36.
“After so many years of so much hard work, it was great to celebrate this achievement with my coach, my family and my friends, and share it with my compatriots,” she said.
“Now I have even more energy to go for more.”
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2016, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website.