Dubai: It is that time in the four-year cycle when athletes all across the globe commence the business-end of their preparations for the Olympics.
Thousands will converge in Tokyo next year for the back-to-back Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games between July 24 and September 6. A handful of Paralympic’s best sporting stars have been taking a break from living this dream of pushing towards further glory while coming together for a cause in Dubai.
Adeline Dumapong-Ancheta of the Philippines, India’s Devendra Jhajharia and the UAE’s Mohammad Khamis Khalaf were among the select Parathletes hand-picked by American giant Citibank for a slew of media activities in the Al Barsha area of Dubai before they hit the trail leading to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
Citibank last year announced a partnership with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) that included a liaison with 18 chosen National Paralympic Committees (NPCs) to provide support as they prepare for various regional and global competitions leading up to Tokyo. The shared goal through this partnership is to help generate awareness and excitement for the Paralympic movement in communities around the world while advocating for a global societal change in perceptions around disability.
The sporting heroes welcomed the minor distraction in their regular demanding schedule.
Dumapong-Ancheta became the first-ever Filipina to win a Paralympic medal when she claimed bronze in powerlifting at the 2000 Sydney Games. Even though she waited for nine long years for her second major medal when she ended with a gold at the 2009 IWAS World Games in Bengaluru, India, the Filipina’s last major success was at the Jakarta Para Asian Games last year. Unknown to many, the 45-year-old powerlifter has no plans to walk away from her sport, especially because she is inspired by another Filipino sporting icon — Manny Pacquiao.
“Many times I am asked what I am still doing in powerlifting. But I think age is just a number. As long as I have the spirit in me to compete I will go on,” Dumapong-Ancheta told Gulf News.
“I have the fire in me still. A medal at the Asian Games last year is testimony to this, and Tokyo 2020 is something that I am looking forward to as I feel I can perhaps end up with a gold there.”
Jhajharia was the first Indian Paralympian to win two gold medals in the F46 javelin at the 2004 and 2016 Paralympics in Athens and Rio de Janeiro, respectively. Briefly in Dubai last week for the media engagement, the Rajasthan athlete, who turned 38 on Monday, was focused on the future with a little over a year remaining for the global spectacle. “I really don’t mind going through such an activity for our sponsor as Citi is putting money into our sport. Such a move can only be for our good in the long run. My focus has always been on my sport, and it will always remain that way,” Jhajharia said.
When he was eight, Jhajharia had his arm amputated following an accident involving a live electric cable. A former Indian Railways employee, Jhajharia is currently employed with the Sports Authority of India (SAI). “Honestly, I have everything going my way at the moment. I have started physical training at my base in Gandhinagar [Gujarat] with my coach Sunil Tanwar. In Tokyo I can see a bonus coming with a gold medal accompanied by a new world record,” he added.
“We are no less when it comes to achievements. Over a period of time, we have all proved to be among the best on the global stage.”
The UAE’s Khamis holds a unique position in Paralympics after being the only Emirati athlete to have won three Games medals — Olympic or Paralympic — medals so far: two golds (2004 Athens and 2016 Rio) and one silver (2008 Beijing). But that doesn’t stop the 50-year-old from continuing to dream on. At the end of April, Khamis won gold at the World Para Powerlifting World Cup in Eger, Hungary, and his 220kg bench press lift was the same weight that fetched him gold at February’s Fazza World Cup in Dubai. In fact, his mark was way above what he had lifted as a 35-year-old winning gold in Athens.
“I am on the right track as far as my training schedule goes,” Khamis said. “From now on, it’s going to be about focus and staying injury free so that I can complete my hat-trick of Paralympic gold medals. I draw inspiration from my role model, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. He has always been challenging us to be the best we can, and I want to live this dream.”