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Four Paralympians ran faster times than the Olympic final - but it's not fair to compare

Abdellatif Baka set a new world record in winning the men’s T13 1500m final.

ALGERIA’S ABDELLATIF BAKA won gold on Monday night in the Paralympic T13 1500m final, but it was his winning time in the Rio Olympic Stadium, as well as the times of the three men who chased him over the line, that really turned heads.

All four runners, who suffer from visual impairment, were faster than the winner of the Olympic 1500m final Matthew Centrowitz.

Here’s how their times stack up:

2016 Olympic Men’s 1500m Final

  • 1 - Matthew Centrowitz 3:50.00 
  • 2- Taoufik Makhloufi 3:50.11
  • 3- Nick Willis 3:50.24

2016 Paralympic Men’s 1500m Final

  • 1 - Abdellatif Baka 3:48.29
  • 2 - Tamiru Demisse 3:48.49
  • 3 - Henry Kirwa 3:49.59
  • 4 - Fouad Baka 3:49.84

Source: Paralympic Games/YouTube

Their performances were groundbreaking in their own right. All four men ran personal bests, and Baka’s winning time set a new world record.

Around the world, headlines celebrated the fact that all four had clocked faster times than the Olympic final.

para1

para2

para3

But is it true to say, as the Huffington Post (above) states, “that even the fourth-place finisher would have won gold in August”?

In a tactical Olympic final, Centrowitz set an incredibly slow early pace which his rivals were happy to follow, and then held them at bay when he kicked into gear after the halfway mark.

His winning time made it the slowest Olympic final since 1932. It was also nearly 20 full seconds slower than the American’s personal best:

  • Matthew Centrowitz - 3:30.40 PB
  • Taoufik Makhloufi – 3:28.75 PB
  • Nick Willis – 3:29.66 PB

In fact, taking Rio out of the equation, Baka’s winning Paralympic time would have been considerably off the pace in every Olympic final for the last 40 years, and the slowest in all bar one during that period.

Olympic Men’s 1500m Final since 1976

(slowest final time in brackets)

  • 2012 –  Taoufik Makhloufi 3:34.08 (3:43.83)
  • 2008 – Asbel Kiprop 3:33.11 (3:39.87)
  • 2004 – Hicham El Guerrouj 3:34.19 (3:41.72)
  • 2000 – Noah Ngney 3:32.07 (3:56.08)
  • 1996 – Noureddine Morceli 3:35.78 (3:40.75)
  • 1992 – Fermin Cacho 3:40.12 (3:44.66)
  • 1988 – Peter Rono 3:35.96 (3:41.07)
  • 1984 – Sebastian Coe 3:32.53 (3:40.74)
  • 1980 – Sebastian Coe 3:38.4 (3:43.1)
  • 1976 – John Walker 3:39.17 (3:43.02)

Does that make Baka’s new world record any less impressive? It shouldn’t.

It is by no means uncommon for elite Paralympic athletes to compete in able-bodied races. Ireland’s Jason Smyth, a five-time sprint champion in the same T13 classification, is the second-fastest Irish runner of all time over 100 metres and has previously raced the world’s best at Diamond League meets.

But as the above shows, comparing Olympic and Paralympic times presents obvious problems. Centrowitz’s Olympic final was an outlier in terms of its slow time but that shouldn’t obscure the fact that last night’s final produced incredible performances that deserve to be considered on their own terms — including the fastest in Paralympic history.

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About the author:

Niall Kelly

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