By Jack De Menezes, September 15, 2016
Baka (centre) shows off his gold medal alongside
Tamiru Demisse (left) and Henry Kirwa (right) (Getty)
Paralympic 1500m champion Abdellatif Baka has admitted that he expected the 1500m final to be a fast race after the top four all finished in times quick enough to win Olympic gold last month, and revealed that his inability to see where his rivals were meant that he ran a quicker time than expected.
Baka triumph in a time of three minutes and 48.29 seconds, 1.7 seconds faster than Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz achieved in the men’s 1500m race at the Rio Olympic Games. Not only would Baka have taken gold had he ran the same time in the Olympic race, the finishers in second third and fourth would also have been fast enough to beat Centrowitz.
Ethiopia’s Tamiru Demisse claimed silver with a time of three minutes and 48.49 seconds, with Kenya’s Henry Kirwa taking bronze in three minutes and 49.59 seconds. Baka’s brother, Fouad Baka, finished fourth in a time of three minutes and 49.84 seconds to also finish faster than Centrowicz.
One possible explanation for the pace of the final is that Baka did not know where his rivals were. He admitted afterwards that he is normally used to running behind someone in an effort to feed off their pace. But the visually impaired athlete led from the front, and as he struggled to see where his rivals were, he instead took the initiative to set the pace and just hold off Demisse on the line.
“Ideally, I like to be in second, kind of feeding off someone, whether it's fast or slow,” Bak said afterwards.
“I was actually prepared for a fast race. I thought if it wasn't fast from the get-go, someone would take it in the middle.
“But I think the best thing is to be prepared for anything and have a few race strategies up your sleeve. That one I kind of handled when I was out there.”
Baka competes in the T13 category in the 1500m, with both T11 and T12 also including visually impaired athletes with the lower numbers indicating a more severe impairment.
He added: “It wasn't easy to get this gold medal.
“I've been working one or two years non-stop and it's been very, very hard for me.”
But despite beating Centrowitz’s gold-medal winning time, Baka still has some way to go before challenging the overall world record, having already clinched the Paralympic world record. Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj holds the 1500m world record with his time of three minutes and 26.00 seconds, set in Rome in 1998, remaining the fastest time ever seen.
Baka’s time would have been good enough to take the world record back in 1934, when America’s Bill Bonthron held the benchmark with a time of three minutes and 48.8 seconds.