Fouad Baka may well have been disappointed at finishing fourth Sunday in the men’s T13-class 1,500 meters at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, meaning that he missed the podium and a coveted medal. But the Algerian athlete could take some consolation in the fact that his time of 3:49.84 was faster than that run by the 1,500-meter winner in the same stadium at the Rio Olympics.
That’s right — not only did Baka best the gold medal-winning time (3:50.00) posted last month by American Matthew Centrowitz, but three other Paralympians did even better. The class in which they competed, T13, is among those for the visually impaired, and they weren’t using blades or any devices unavailable to Olympic athletes.
Abdellatif Baka, Fouad’s brother, won the event in a time of 3:48.29 seconds, a T13 world record. He held off Ethiopia’s Tamiru Demisse, who took silver in 3:48.49, and Kenya’s Henry Kirwa won bronze with a time of 3:49.59.
“It wasn’t easy to get this gold medal,” Baka said. “I’ve been working one or two years non-stop and it’s been very, very hard for me.”
Of course, it’s worth noting that the pace in the Olympic 1,500 meters was deliberately slow, resulting from Centrowitz’s strategy of shooting to the front of the pack early on and then using his position to force a relatively plodding pace. “It’s like youth level, really. . . . It was beyond slow,” Great Britain’s Charlie Grice, who finished 12th, said after that race.
In his first qualifying round in Rio, Centrowitz ran a 3:39.31, with the fastest time, 3:38.31, run by Jakub Holusa of the Czech Republic. The world record, set in 1998 by Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj, is 3:26.00.
Nevertheless, the Paralympians have much to be proud of, starting with the determination that got them to Rio in the first place. And the four top finishers can always say they out-ran the Olympic gold medal winner.