“The Grand Prix in Tunis is very important for me because it is in my home country. I have trained so hard despite the problems in my country.”
Double world champion Yassine Gharbi is determined to do his country proud when he competes at the Tunis Grand Prix in Tunisia this week (22-24 June).
“The Grand Prix in Tunis is very important for me because it is in my home country,” explained the 28-year-old. “I have trained so hard despite the problems in my country.”
Gharbi came of age at the World Championships last year when he won two gold, one silver and one bronze medal on the track in the men’s T54 class.
His outstanding achievements on the track placed him in the top 10 of multi-medallists at London 2017.
In fact, Tunisia were the only nation with more than one Para athlete in the top ten, as Gharbi’s teammate, friend and training partner Walid Ktila filled the number one slot with a phenomenal four gold medals.
Prior to last year’s World Championships, Gharbi had one major medal to his name – he clinched bronze in the 400m at Rio 2016. At the 2015 World Championships his best-placed finish was fifth over one lap.
But it is safe to say his outstanding success in London was no fluke. Fast-forward to 2018 and there is no doubting Gharbi is one of the best T54 wheelchair racers in the world.
That is no mean feat in a highly competitive class which includes experienced and formidable stars such as Switzerland’s Marcel Hug, Dutchman Kenny van Weeghel, China’s Yang Liu and Thai duo Prawat Wahoram and Saichon Konjen.
Currently ranked number one in the world in the 200m and 400m T54 and third in the 800m, Gharbi started the season with a bang, smashing the previous 400m world record which had stood for 10 years.
His time of 43.46 in Sharjah (United Arab Emirates) in March took more than one second off the mark set by China’s six-time Paralympic gold medallist Lixin Zhang – 400m T54 champion at both the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games.
“I’m very happy with my world record, it has given me more confidence,” explained Gharbi. “I want to improve my time because I think good things can happen. It’s hard, but it’s not impossible.”
The Rades-born racer is close to threatening the 200m world record too – another of Zhang’s long-standing marks from the Beijing Games. At the Nottwil Grand Prix in Switzerland in May, Gharbi clocked 24.35, just 0.17 outside Zhang’s time.
But the Tunisian is not the only new face challenging for the podium.
Briton Richard Chiassaro, bronze medallist in the 400m T54 at London 2017, broke the 800m T54 world record in Nottwil earlier this month having set a new European record of 44.39 over 400m just three days earlier. He also clocked an impressive 24.37 in the 200m.
Then there’s USA’s Daniel Romanchuk, who won four titles at last week’s Arizona Grand Prix, which doubled as the US Nationals – smashing Chiassaro’s 800m world record in the process.
Their presence has only served to spur Gharbi on even more.
“I knew them from before and I was expecting them to become stars - that is encouraging me to train hard,” he said.
Racing on home soil this week will provide a valuable insight – for Gharbi and for his rivals around the world - as to Just how much his hard work is paying off.