Carlos Serrano was the man responsible for putting an end to Colombia’s 36-year-old gold medal drought at Rio 2016.
With a world record time of 1:12.50, the 18-year-old swimmer touched in first in the men’s 100m breaststroke SB7, ahead of Australia’s defending champion Blake Cochrane (1:18.66) and China’s Hong Yang (1:20.21).
Pedro Mejia, also in the 100m breaststroke, had been the last Colombian to top the Paralympic podium in Arnhem, the Netherlands, in 1980.
“I feel so proud, so happy, because we had worked very hard with my team in the lead-up to the Paralympic Games,” said Serrano, who last year sealed the world title in the same event in Glasgow, Great Britain.
“I was mentally strong before Rio 2016 and did the best I could in the pool. In the end, I even broke my own world record, which was incredible.”
The Colombian had been dreaming of winning a Paralympic title since he burst onto the international scene at only 14 years old, when he claimed multiple-gold medals at the Buenos Aires 2013 Youth Parapan American Games.
“I have fulfilled a lifetime dream in Rio,” said Serrano, who also won silver and bronze in the 100m and 50m freestyle S7, respectively, at September’s Games.
“Leaving Brazil with three Paralympic medals, taking into account this was my first Games, makes me feel very proud.
“Rio 2016 will be an unforgettable experience for me because it definitively cemented me as one of the world’s best swimmers. Besides, the organisation of the Games was excellent and the volunteers were always happy to help you.”
Colombia rounded off their best Paralympic Games ever, winning 17 medals overall - two golds, five silvers and 10 bronzes - 15 more than at London 2012.
“This unprecedented performance showed that Colombia is improving step by step. All the athletes gave their best in Rio and they know it, either they achieved their goals or not,” said five-time Parapan American champion Serrano.
The young swimmer already targets Tokyo 2020 success, although he knows there are other major competitions to focus on before, such as the 2017 World Championships in Mexico and the Lima 2019 Parapan American Games.
“I need to continue working and giving the best of myself to maintain my place amongst the world’s best and keep winning titles,” said Serrano.
“My biggest dream is to become the best athlete I can be, to be recognised in Colombia and to compete at every Paralympic Games I can.
“As for Tokyo 2020, I hope I can qualify and lower my times there.”