Just a month after UAE judo champ Sergiu Toma ended the country’s twelve-year wait for an Olympic medal, another outstanding Emirati athlete has ensured Paralympic glory for the country at Rio 2016.
Forty-six-year-old Mohammed Khamid Khalaf won gold on Tuesday in the men’s 88kg powerlifting competition after benching a remarkable 220 kilos.
Khalaf, who suffers from leg paralysis after contracting polio as a child, beat off opponents Evanio da Silva from Brazil and Sodnompiljee Enkhbayar from Mongolia, both of whom lifted ten kilos less than him.
What’s even more impressive is the fact that the Emirati strongman is no stranger to Paralympic glory.
Not only were these his fifth Paralympic Games in a row, he’s already won gold at Athens 2004 (the UAE’s first-ever Paralympic medal) and silver at Beijing 2008. Not at all bad for a man who spent most of his childhood behind closed doors.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has lauded 47-year-old Mohammed Khamis Khalaf for securing UAE's first gold at Rio paralympics.
In a tweet he said: "Proud of our lifting player Mohammed for winning the gold medal at the games at Rio de Janeiro."
While studying in Abu Dhabi as a young man, his friends told him about the Dubai Club for Special Sports.
“I was mostly curious to come and see the club, because it sounded bizarre that a handicapped person could actually be an athlete,” Khalaf told sports news website Sport360 recently.
Khalaf started off doing wheelchair racing but before long he discovered the sport he was destined to triumph at: powerlifting.
“I fell in love with this sport. It symbolises challenge and strength. If you don’t train for a week you come back and have to start from scratch. This is why I admire powerlifting – because you can never stop.”