Africa set to stage its first IPC Athletics Grand Prix

The IPC Athletics Grand Prix series moves to Africa for the 8th Tunis International Meeting on 16-18 June, marking the first time the continent has staged a major IPC Athletics event. 13 Jun 2014
Walid Ktila

Tunisia's Walid Ktila is one of the biggest rivals of Finland's Henry Manni

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The three day competition features more than 25 medallists from last year’s IPC Athletics World Championships, and more than 60 world finalists

With over 260 competitors from 20 different countries taking part, the event at the Olympic Athletics Stadium in Rades will host athletes from a diverse mix of countries ranging from Mexico to Mozambique, as well as a wealth of talent from closer to home.

The three day competition features more than 25 medallists from last year’s IPC Athletics World Championships, and more than 60 world finalists. It also provides a vital opportunity for many athletes in the region to compete at a standard rarely found outside major championships and Paralympic Games.

Walid Ktila lines up as the host nation’s most successful athlete, having won four track golds at last year’s World Championships in Lyon, France, to add to his double Paralympic gold from London.

The 28-year-old takes on the 100m, 400m and 800m T34 in Tunis having already set new world records in the 100m, 200m and 800m the season. However, after a surprise defeat over 200m to Finland’s Henry Manni in Notwill, Switzerland, last month, he will be out to show that he remains the man to beat.

Abderrahim Zhiou is another home favourite out to impress the local crowds. As well as taking on the 1,500m T12 - an event he is the world champion and world record holder in - Zhiou will face tough competition in the 5,000m from Algeria’s world bronze medallist Nacer-Eddine Karfas.

Abbes Saidi, victor over 1,500m T38 in Grosetto and world silver medallist behind Michael McKillop last year, will be hoping to take advantage of the Irishman’s absence as he lines up against a field including fellow world finalists Hafid Aharak from Morocco, and compatriot Mohamed Charmi.

Another Tunisian in fine form is Yassine Gharbi, who finished second behind Switzerland’s Marcel Hug in the 800m T54 at February’s Dubai Grand Prix. Finland’s World and Paralympic champion Leo Pekka-Tahti finished behind Gharbi over 400m in Nottwil last month, with the Tunisian clocking 48.25 seconds. The pair meet again over one lap in Tunis, along with a number of other wheelchair racers from the Grand Prix in Switzerland, including Rashed Aldhaheri, Mohammad Vahdani and Fahad Mohammad from the UAE

In the field a number of talented Tunisians will compete including javelin world champion Hania Aidi (F54/55/56) and Maroua Ibrahmi, who bettered her own club (F32) world record set at the Paralympic Games in London on her way to gold in Lyon.

Paralympic gold medallist Raoua Tlili, who added the discus F41 world title to her collection in 2013 will rekindle her rivalry with compatriot and world silver medallist Fathia Amaimia.

Three Mexican world champions are also looking to make their mark in the field events. World and Paralympic champion Angeles Ortiz Hernandez will be hard to beat in the shot put F57/58, whilst Luis Zepeda goes in the javelin (F54). The women’s javelin F52/53, with Mexico’s gold and bronze medallists, Estela Salas and Esther Rivera is expected to be a real thriller.

Algeria fields the second highest number of competitors behind Tunisia, with an imposing line up including the trio who swooped the medals in the men’s shot put F32/33 last year, Kamel Kardjena, Karim Betina and Mounir Bakiri, remarkably repeating their podium places from the 2012 Paralympic Games. Betina and Bakiri (F32) both threw 7.03m earlier this year in Dubai, finishing second and third respectively, and it will no doubt be tough to split the pair again this time.

Back on the track, Algeria’s middle distance world champion Abdellatif Baka remains one to watch, as he runs in the 1,500m T13 against a field including the man who took second place in Lyon, Morocco’s Youssef Benibrahim.

Algerian Samir Nouioua picked up two golds in Lyon and looks tough to beat in the 1,500 T46. And world bronze medallist Sofiane Hamdi (200m T37) will be hoping to continue his season opening form having won in Dubai four months ago.

Following Tunis is the penultimate event in the IPC Athletics Grand Prix series, the Berlin Open between 20-22 June.