Over the past 20 years, Colombia, a Latin American country, has grown into one of the region’s most successful Paralympic nations.
Having made its Paralympic debut in 1976 and winning its first medal thanks to swimmer Pedro Mejía in 1980, the country had to wait almost 30 years for its next podium.
But since it happened in Beijing 2008, Colombia has not looked back. Four medals followed at London 2012, but it was at Rio 2016 that they really came, leaving with an impressive 17 medals.
The only way is to mount, according to the team leader, Bitalia Zenith Maestre Molina: “If in Rio we obtained 17 medals (two gold, five silver and 10 bronze) our NPC [National Paralympic Committee] works and plans to improve these results. We clearly have a goal of medals and we want to be careful, but the goal is to improve the total number and the number of gold medals.
Colombia is right to be optimistic. One of their most decorated athletes from five years ago, Carlos Serrano, will return to the pool at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
“The goal of Tokyo 2020 is to improve on what I did at Rio 2016 which was a gold medal, a silver medal and a bronze medal by improving all my grades and achieving the times that I got it, ”Serrano said.
It’s not just words. In 2019, Serrano left the World Championships with three gold medals in the 100m breaststroke, 200m individual medley SM7 and 100m freestyle and a new world record in breaststroke.
“The preparations for Tokyo have been very good because we are working very hard without giving up. Every day, we train twice a day from Monday to Saturday, ”he continued. “I’ll be competing in the 200m individual medley, 100m breaststroke, 50m butterfly and 50m freestyle, which overall I feel very strong and able to fight for a medal.
“I am very proud to represent my country – that we are very hard working people who never give up fighting for their dreams and always want to move forward and always give the best of ourselves.”
If all goes well, swimming could propel Colombia back to the medal table. Alongside Serrano, Nelson Crispin and Moises Fuentes will compete in the pool as Rio 2016 silver and bronze medalists.
EXPAND THEIR REACH
Colombia has also cultivated new talents in all sports.
Erica Castano came close to the podium in 2016 with the fourth place in the women’s F55 disc. By the time of the Para-Athletics World Championships, still in 2019, she had reached a level and became the first Colombian woman to reach the top step of the podium in the competition.
“I have worked hard to get all the results I have achieved so far, I am sure I will be on the podium in my event there in Tokyo and I have confidence in myself for being brave and for reaching that point, ”Castano said. , who will be the flag bearer of the opening ceremony of Tokyo 2020, alongside the powerlifter para Francisco Palomeque.
“The preparations for Tokyo have been very good. For my part as a para-athlete, I tried even more to improve my sporting level. I train three times a day, we’ve been competing for a few days. I feel good, I feel positive, dynamic, excited, calm and above all passionate about this process which has given me so many joys.
A record 69 athletes will compete for Colombia in Tokyo, almost double the squad of 39 they sent to Rio 2016. They will represent their country in nine sports, including debuts in boccia and table tennis.
A BIGGER CAUSE
Momentum continues to build for Colombia. Bitalia reported that his team had acclimated to conditions in Japan by visiting cities with similar climates. They will also host national powerlifting and boccia competitions before boarding the plane for the Paralympic Games.
For Castana, a good performance from his country will have consequences that go far beyond his own borders and allow them to show the best of Colombia to the world.
“It makes me proud to be able to change the image foreigners have of our country. I would like everyone to visit us, fall in love with this land and enjoy so many beautiful and pleasant things that we have here.
“I want to be proud, to be one of the good people in this country, the ones who are building and forging a better future.”
Elsewhere, at the Olympic Stadium, Colombia will look to reigning F34 men’s javelin, world champion and Paralympic Mauricio Valencia. Dixon Jesus Hooker Velasquez is also the current world title holder in the Men’s T43 400m. Francy Esther Osorio Calderon, guided by Camilo Andres Lancheros Lopez, is another 2019 Worlds medalist with silver in the women’s 1500, T13.
In powerlifting and cycling, the country will also be represented by medalists from the World Championships and the last Paralympic Games.
Powerlifter Fabio Torres Silva, alongside cyclists Diego German Dueñas Gómez and Edwin Fabián Matiz Ruiz, returns to the world stage.