The world’s finest Paralympians are gathering in Rio right now, with 176 countries taking part in 528 events across 21 venues for medal glory this September. More than 250 world records were smashed during the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, and Azimo has lined up seven superstars to keep your eyes on this time round.
Tatyana McFadden (USA): Wheelchair Racing
Tatyana McFadden was born with spina bifida and spent the first six years of her life in an orphanage in St Petersburg. But her luck changed when US Commissioner for Disabilities Deborah McFadden visited the orphanage in 1994. She adopted Tatyana and moved her to the US. Now 27, Tatyana has won pretty much everything going in wheelchair racing, including three golds at London 2012, and is set to compete in seven events at Rio.
Alan Oliveira (Brazil): Sprinting
Brazilian blade runner Alan Oliveira will have plenty of home support in Rio de Janeiro, but he might not need it quite as much now that his great rival Oscar Pistorius has been confined to jail. Having had both legs amputated following an illness when he was just three weeks old, Alan began running on carbon-fibre blades at the age of 15 and shot to fame at London 2012 when he famously overtook Pistorius in the final straight of the 200m to claim gold.
Alex Zanardi (Italy): Handcycling
When Italian racing driver Alex Zanardi lost both his legs in a horrific Indycar crash in 2001, his future was in tatters. So having the strength to come back and win two gold medals in handcycling at the London 2012 Paralympics was an extraordinary achievement. Now 49, Alex is still brimming with self-confidence, describing himself as ‘like a fine wine that just keeps on getting better with age’. Expect more vintage medal success in Rio.
Jessica Long (USA): Swimming
Team USA’s Jessica Long is nothing if not determined. She was born in Siberia with fibular hemimelia and adopted from an orphanage at 13 months old. A few months later, she had both legs amputated below the knee so she could be fitted with prosthetic legs. Just a decade on, Jessica won her first Paralympic medals at the age of 12 – three golds at Athens. She followed this up with four golds at Beijing and five at London. Six at Rio? Watch this space.
Ellie Simmonds (GB): Swimming
Ellie Simmonds OBE is Team GB’s Paralympic poster girl. She first found fame at the Beijing Games in 2008, when she won two gold medals in the pool, despite being the youngest member of the British team at the age of just 13. Four years later, on home soil, she did even better – she picked up another two golds, a silver and a bronze to add to the trophy cabinet. That’s an awful lot of medals for someone who’s still only 21.
Zahra Nemati (Iran): Archery
Zahra Nemati’s original plan was to compete at the Olympics in taekwondo, until a car accident at the age of 18 left her paralysed from the waist down. But she didn’t stop believing, despite being confined to a wheelchair – instead she switched sports to archery and has just taken part in the Olympics before switching over to the Paralympics. To top it all, she had the honour of carrying the Iranian flag at the Opening Ceremony in Rio.
Ibrahim Al Hussein (Refugees): Swimming
Ibrahim Al Hussein grew up in Syria and dreamed of one day taking part in the Olympics, but an explosion put paid to that – his right leg had to be amputated from the calf down after he was hit by a bomb as he went to help an injured friend. Ibrahim now lives and trains in Athens, having fled Syria via Turkey and the Greek island of Samos, and he’ll be part of the two-strong Refugee Team at Rio.
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