“Of course I was expecting to have the support of the crowd, but I could not imagine how big it would be.”
Not even Brazil’s most decorated Paralympian, Daniel Dias, could have imagined the reception he was to receive at his home Paralympic Games at Rio 2016.
In winning four golds, three silvers and two bronzes in swimming, he became the face of Paralympics when nearly every day he stepped onto the podium to the vocal delight of thousands of spectators.
Dias’ success, and his near cult status, enter at No. 9 in the International Paralympic Committee’s Top 50 Moments of 2016.
“Of course I was expecting to have the support of the crowd, but I could not imagine how big it would be,” Dias said. “It was a great emotion, surprising and wonderful. The fans’ affection instilled passion in me and motivated me to give even more of myself.”
On winning his first gold on the opening day of competition at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on 8 September in the men’s 200m freestyle S5, Dias set the tone for the rest of the Paralympics.
No one would have imagined that a venue could manage to contain such affection. But nearly every day, 24-time world champion Dias attracted swathes of fans to the Olympic Park.
Dias gave them medals in four individual events and was part of the Brazilian team that would win three relay medals. In December, he was named Male Athlete of the Year by the Brazilian edition of GQ magazine, topping off an incredible year where he reached new levels of recognition.
“My goal was to win medals in the individual events,” he said “But I could also reach the podium in the relays, so I exceeded my expectations.”
His performances attracted national media attention, especially because of the way Dias acknowledged and thanked his fans on the podium, waving and often crying.
He could be seen climbing the photographer positions to reach his young family on the walk back across the pool deck, embracing his wife and son Danielzinho. Brazilian Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons presented medals to Dias on one occasion, holding the swimmer in his arms as they both celebrated the difference that Rio 2016 had made.
With a total of 2.15 million tickets sold, Rio 2016 overtook Beijing 2008 as the second biggest Paralympic Games in history, only behind London 2012.
“It was a huge success. I think the fans were the best thing about Rio,” he said.
“Also, we did not have any issues with the Games logistics and another great thing is that society started to look at us [people with impairment] with more respect.”
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2016, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website.