Author: Nadir SANANOGHLU
The 16th Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo are over. The national paralympic team of Azerbaijan finished the competition as the 10th best team of the world among 163 countries, which is an outstanding result. The new record of our athletes is 19 medals, including 14 gold, 1 silver and 4 bronze medals. Medals won in Tokyo 2020 are a record in the paralympic history of Azerbaijan.
The games, which were supposed to be held last year but were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, have gone down in the history of our paralympic team as the most successful competition. Of 36 athletes in the team, more than half (19) became medallists in Tokyo, although two athletes were unable to join the competition due to a positive COVID-19 test result.
At the Tokyo Paralympic Games, Azerbaijan for the first time took the 10th place in terms of the number of medals. Our best achievement so far has been 27th place. We took even a higher place (6) among the European states.
We also became the third among the post-Soviet states. Russia and Ukraine made it to the top three. Our team could outperform even the host country Japan in the medal standings. This is undoubtedly a huge success. Among the countries left behind were such giants of sports as Germany, Iran, and France.
The close attention to sports in Azerbaijan also considers athletes with health problems. The most important factor contributing to our success in Tokyo was the creation of excellent conditions for the training of athletes. Thanks to this competition, the members of the national team, including the veterans of the Garabagh war, felt like a part of world sports. Our paralympians became more than just the winners of Olympic medals. They demonstrated the image of a leader, showed the sports power of Azerbaijan.
They indeed confirmed the motto that they chose for the Tokyo Olympics – Invincible to success! In a wide variety of sports, they have proven that they came to Japan not as tourists, but to win.
With a total of 8 highest awards from Atlanta to Rio, our paralympians have surpassed this result almost twice in Tokyo. With 14 gold medals in their asset, our athletes also updated the record for the total number of awards.
At the 2012 London Olympic Games, Azerbaijan’s national paralympic team hit the podium 12 times, while in Japan it did so 19 times.
Swimmer Roman Salei was remembered for his historic achievement in Tokyo 2020. With three gold medals in his asset, he became the first three-time paralympic champion in the history of sports in Azerbaijan.
Judokas Shahan Hajiyev, Vugar Shirinli, Sevda Veliyeva, Khanym Huseynova, Huseyn Rahimli, Dursadaf Kerimova, althletes Hamid Heydari, Elvin Astanov, Lamiya Veliyeva, Orkhan Aslanov and swimmer Veli Israfilov could beat all their rivals. Lamiya Veliyeva also won a silver medal. Parvin Mammadov (powerlifting), Namig Abasly (judo), Ilham Zakiyev (judo) and Said Najafzadeh (athletics) became bronze medalists.
Tokyo 2020 was also significant in terms of records. So, with the result of 51.42 m, Hamid Heydari updated the world record in javelin throw, while Elvin Astanov did the same with the result of 8.77 m in shot put. Veli Israfilov, who completed 100 m breaststroke in 1.04.08 minutes, and Lamiya Veliyeva, who ran 400 m in 55.00 seconds, updated paralympic records.
Rest assured, our paralympic team has left in the shadows the result of the Olympic team of Azerbaijan. Paralympians became an example for the Olympic team that failed to win a single award in Tokyo. As a tribute to them, the anthem of Azerbaijan was played 14 times, and this result went down in the history of Azerbaijan’s as one of the highest accomplishments.
Paris 2024 ahead
In his interview with R+, the Secretary General of the National Paralympic Committee Kamal Mammadov confirmed that our athletes achieved a historic result: “The National Paralympic Committee has demonstrated the strength of its athletes to the whole world. Like the Azerbaijani soldiers, our athletes also showed their will and strength to the whole world. The performance could be even better. We are preparing for Paris 2024 Summer Paralympics. God willing, we will please our nation with new successes in 2024 as well.”.
Azerbaijani paraathlete Elvin Astanov, who won a gold medal in Tokyo, said that he was very happy: “We have fulfilled our duty. We raised our flag to the very top. We tried and fought for this hard. Glory to Allah, we achieved what we wanted.”
In memory of martyrs
The 42-year-old athlete, who rose to the highest step of the podium in the shot put competition, expressed his gratitude to President Ilham Aliyev and First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva: “They constantly supported us. As our soldiers liberated Garabagh in just 44 days, we did everything as instructed by our president. May Allah rest the souls of our martyrs and grant health to our veterans. Glory to our heroic girls as well. We have won our medals and are proud of them. We went to Tokyo and returned with the best results.”
Hamid Heydari, our champion in javelin throwing with a new world record, said that he would try to continue his successful performances: “I defeated all opponents with a world record. I express my gratitude to the President of Azerbaijan, the leadership of the National Paralympic Committee. I hope to renew my record at the Paris Paralympics.”
The bronze medallist in long jump Said Najafzadeh recalled that he performed at the Paralympics for the first time: “I am glad that I could get a medal. I thank everyone who supported me. First of all, I am grateful to President Ilham Aliyev, who is always with the athletes. I express my gratitude to my personal trainer and my family for their faith in me and support. All of us won these medals as a tribute to the memory of our martyrs. May our flag, which stands high thanks to their blood, be always at the top.”
In the spirit of victory
Ilgar Rahimov, President of the National Paralympic Committee of Azerbaijan, said that he believed in the high achievements of our athletes: “Our team is very strong. I said this before the competition. I even said that the team going to Tokyo is better than the previous lineups.”
The Paralympic Committee was confident in the ability of each team member: “This allowed us to make the right predictions. Before the competition, we did not discuss about how many gold medals we could win. At the same time, we were expecting a worthy performance by our paralympians. Some of our predictions did not come true. Athletes that we expected to win gold medals could not perform well. Others unexpectedly became paralympic champions, as they had a spirit of victory.”
Mr. Rahimov added that the triumph of Azerbaijan in the Patriotic War also influenced the performances of the paralympians: “The victory greatly inspired our athletes. I promise that now our athletes will prepare with even greater responsibility. Less than three years are left before the Paralympic Games in Paris. We need to get ready as soon as possible. We need to form a new team. Of course, there will be athletes who are in the team, because the team is very young. One of our main goals is to attract veterans who lost their health in the Patriotic War. We have a lot of young paralympians. They can do any kind of sport. We will make selection and go to Paris with an even stronger team.”
President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree on awarding members of the National Paralympic Team of Azerbaijan. According to the decree, Azerbaijani athletes and their coaches, as well as the members of the National Paralympic Committee, were awarded for the high results achieved at the 16th Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo, as well as for their merits in the development of sports in Azerbaijan. President also decreed to award the winning athletes with monetary rewards.