Israeli athletes made a winning start to the 2020 Paralympic Games on Wednesday, when swimmer Iyad Shalabi won a gold medal on the first day of competition in Tokyo.
Paralympic medals are common for Israel — the country’s athletes have now won a total of 375 Paralympic medals compared with 13 Olympic medals — but Shalabi made history as the first Arab Israeli to achieve that feat.
He won his 100-meter backstroke final with a time of 2:28.04, after no preliminary rounds were held due to the low number of participants. Silver was taken by Anton Kol of Ukraine and bronze by Italy’s Francesco Bettella.
Shalabi finished fourth in Beijing 2008 and in London 2012, narrowly missing out on medals in both Games.
Shalabi, 34, was born deaf-mute to a Muslim family from Shfaram and is paralyzed in all four limbs following an accident at age 13. He competes in disability classification S1, reserved for those with the most severe activity limitations.
He trains at a Haifa center run by ILAN — Israel Association for Children with Disabilities, closely accompanied by his father, Yusef.
Shalabi won bronze in the 150-meter individual medley at the 2018 European Championships, and gold in the 50-meter backstroke at this year’s European Championships, held in May.
Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper celebrated Shalabi’s gold medal Wednesday as a “huge achievement.”
“Iyad is an inspiring man whose life has been full of victories,” Tropper wrote. “And today, another great victory. Iyad wasn’t frightened by the high expectations, aimed high and filled us all with pride. We are proud of you, Iyad Shalabi!”
Earlier, swimmer Yulia Gordichuk failed to reach the final in the 400-meter freestyle, finishing 10th out of 14 competitors.
Meanwhile, Israel’s women’s goalball team won its first game, prevailing 11-1 over Australia.