Seven Medals, Four Gold: Israel Becomes Powerhouse at Tokyo Paralympics

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From left: Mark Malyar, Ami Dadon, Moran Samuel and Iyad Shalabi.
From left: Mark Malyar, Ami Dadon, Moran Samuel and Iyad Shalabi. Credit:

Israeli athletes have won seven medals so far at the Tokyo Paralympics, including four golds in swimming events where world records were smashed.

The country’s first medal of the Games was won by Iyad Shalabi last Wednesday, when the 34-year-old took gold in the 100-meter men’s backstroke. His triumph made him the first Arab Israeli to win a medal at either the Paralympics or Olympics.

President Isaac Herzog, who called to congratulate Shalabi on his victory, tweeted that he was proud of the paralympian, who he termed “a champion” and “a symbol of power.”

The Tokyo Paralympics marked Shalabi’s fourth appearance at the tournament, but this was the first time the native Shfaram in northern Israel, who trains in Haifa, had claimed a medal. Shalabi, who was paralyzed in an accident at age 13, finished in a winning time of 2:28.04.

Another Israeli swimmer, Ami Dadaon, has won both gold and silver medals at Tokyo.

On Monday, he claimed the gold in the 200-meter men’s freestyle race, setting a new world record in the process. A day earlier, he had won the silver medal in the men’s 150-meter individual medley.

He had also been expected to win the men’s 100-meter freestyle – a category in which he is the reigning world champion – but was disqualified for jumping too early, despite reaching the wall first.

Following his silver success on Sunday, Herzog tweeted: “Ami Dadaon was born a premature baby with cerebral palsy and disabilities in all four limbs. When asked what word defines him, he said: faith. ... Dear Ami, without a doubt your faith has triumphed.”

Swimmer Mark Malyar has also had an outstanding tournament, winning two gold medals and a bronze medal so far, with two more events still to come.

Malyar set a new world record winning gold in the men’s 400-meter freestyle event on Sunday. He finished the race in 4:31.06 minutes, some 2 seconds quicker than the previous world record that he himself set two years ago in London.

On Friday, Malyar had won his first gold medal and set a new world record in the men’s 200-meter individual medley, recording a time of 2:29.01.

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper congratulated Malyar on Twitter, writing: “Two gold medals, two world records and a bright future for someone who started sports as part of his hydrotherapy in the pool. Mark proves that not just talent is important, but also perseverance.”

He followed those performances with a bronze medal in the men's 100-meter men's backstroke on Monday.

The 21-year-old took up swimming at age 5 with his twin brother Ariel, who also has cerebral palsy.

He was named athlete of the year by the Israeli Paralympic Committee in 2017, and is the world champion in both the 400- and 800-meter freestyle events.

Rower Moran Samuel, meanwhile, won a silver medal in the women’s 2,000-meter single sculls on Sunday.

The 39-year-old, who snagged a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Games, finished second in a time of 11:18.39 minutes. President Herzog called Samuel “a superwoman … not just for winning a silver medal, but for how she copes so impressively with all the challenges of life.”

Samuel had previously played on the Israeli women’s youth basketball team, before becoming paralyzed from the chest down when a blood clot penetrated her spinal cord and exploded in it.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid congratulated all of the Israeli Paralympians on Monday, calling it a great honor for Israel to win seven medal so far. The Games conclude in Tokyo this Sunday.

The Paralympics, founded by the late German-Jewish doctor Ludwig Guttman, are for athletes with physical disabilities. Some 4,500 athletes are competing in 539 events in the 16th Paralympics, which have taken place in their present form since 1960. Team Israel sent 33 athletes to compete in 11 sports this year.

Israelis have won over 120 Paralympic gold medals over the years, including 40 in the Montreal Paralympics in 1976. Team Israel’s performance this summer has easily eclipsed its showing five years ago in Rio, when it came home with three bronze medals.

Israeli Paralympics 2020 medal winners (clockwise from top left): Moran Samuel, Iyad Shalabi, Ami Dadaon and Mark MalyarCredit: Haaretz

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