Having made his Paralympic debut at the Athens 2004 Games, Marcel Hug finally won Paralympic gold at his 19th attempt at Rio 2016, topping the podium in the 800m T54. Days later, the Swiss T54 racer struck gold once again this time in the marathon after a thrilling duel with Australia’s Kurt Fearnley.
Hug’s wins cemented his place amongst the all-time greats of wheelchair racing and has secured him No. 14 position in the International Paralympic Committee’s Top 50 Moments of 2016.
Having burst onto the international scene as an 18-year-old with two bronze medals at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, Hug has been one of the dominant forces in T54 wheelchair racing for longer than a decade.
During a stellar career, the world record holder in every distance from 800m to 10,000m has won six world and three European titles. However, Paralympic gold had always eluded him.
After failing to medal at Beijing 2008, and picking up two silver medals behind Great Britain’s David Weir at London 2012, the Rio 2016 Paralympics presented a crossroads in Hug’s career. A disappointing Doha 2015 World Championships meant Rio was a case of “now or never” in terms of whether he would finally win the Paralympic title he so desperately craved.
September’s Games did not start well for him. Silver medal finishes in the 5,000m and 1,500m once again led to questions about whether the “Swiss Silver Bullet” would forever be remembered as the “Swiss Silver Medal”.
But one thing that Hug has never lacked is self-belief and as he lined up for the 800m T54 final he knew that he was the fastest man in the field.
Straight from the gun, Hug hit the front setting down the gauntlet to his rivals that this would effectively be a time trial rather than a tactical battle.
Leading the race throughout, Hug hit the accelerator with 200m to go to pull away from his rivals. With the finish line in sight, he led by 10m, his first Paralympic gold was finally in sight.
Almost 12 years to the day since winning his first Paralympic medal - a bronze in the 1,500m T54 - Hug was Paralympic champion. He punched the air and screamed with joy, a rare show of emotion for the normally softly spoken 30-year-old.
Three days after his Olympic Stadium success, Hug was back in action again, this time on the roads of Rio in the men’s marathon.
With Australia’s Kurt Fearnley by his side throughout the 42km distance, the two greats of the wheelchair racing world set up a grandstand finish along Copacabana Beach.
As the finish line approached, Hug pulled away from his rival to take the tape by a matter of metres to become a double Paralympic champion.
Speaking weeks later, Rio success had still not sunk in.
“It feels like a dream came true – a very long dream,” said Hug. “Now I can close a chapter – that’s the difference. But other things are still the same. I still have fun with sport, and new goals for next season.”
Full of confidence after Rio, Hug went on to enjoy success in the Berlin, Chicago and New York marathons and became the first man to complete a season Grand Slam of marathon win having enjoyed success in Boston and London earlier in the year.
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2016, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website: https://www.paralympic.org/top-50-moments-2016