Daniel Dias is a force to reckoned with in the pool. On Thursday, the 28-year-old Brazilian easily won the first of his nine swimming events, beating his competition by almost 10 seconds in the men’s 200-meter freestyle S5 event for athletes with limb deficiencies. That performance, and the fact that he holds multiple world records, has many comparing him to Michael Phelps, but Dias thinks differently.
“I am very happy to be compared to such an amazing athlete, but I am Daniel Dias,” he told Paralympic.org in an interview posted on Thursday. “And I want to do the best for Paralympic sports.”
With his latest win, Dias, who competed in the 2008 and 2012 Paralympics, now has 16 Paralympic medals; 11 of them are gold. If all goes as expected, Dias will have 24 by the end of the Rio Paralympics, which would make him the most decorated Paralympic male swimmer of all time.
It will take him a few more years of competing, however, to become the most-decorated Paralympian ever. American blind swimmer Trischa Zorn currently holds that title, having won 55 medals, including 41 golds, over the course of seven Paralympic Games between 1980 and 2004.
“Medals are consequences of good work,” Dias said. “I never promise medals. I believe it is a consequence of my good work in the water.”
Dias, who was born with a partially formed left hand, a right arm that ends at the elbow and a right leg that stops at the knee, started swimming when he was 16 and took to the water easily. Just two years after he began swimming, won five medals at the 2006 IPC Swimming World Championships. He proved equally successful in his first Paralympics two years later, taking home a total of nine medals, including four golds. Dias went on to win six golds — all in world record-breaking time — at the 2012 Paralympics in London.
Winning his first gold in his home country on Thursday, however, might have been a career highlight. It certainly was for the crowd, according to Craig Spence, a Paralympics spokesman, who told the Associated Press the cheers at the Olympic Aquatics stadium “exceeded” those he’s heard at soccer games.
Saturday is expected to be an extra poignant day for Dias. He will compete against his idol Clodoaldo Silva, who is taking part in his final Paralympics after winning 12 medals, including six golds, at three different Paralympics between 2000 and 2008.
“I only began because I saw Clodoaldo (who has cerebral palsy) swimming on TV,” Dias told the AP. “I didn’t even know people like me could swim, could do any sport at all.”