By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Thursday, September 8th, in his first race of the Rio 2016 Paralympics, Brazilian Paralympic swimming sensation Daniel Dias did not disappoint the 15,000 fans at the Olympic Aquatic Stadium as he easily lapped the field to win gold in the S5 200m freestyle. Dias’s victory highlighted a successful first day for the host country, which won a total of four medals, two golds, a silver, and a bronze.
After one length, with the crowd going wild, Dias was already all alone with the only question being if he would break his own world record.
Though he just fell short of that mark, Dias easily defeated the field with a time of 2:27.88, more than ten seconds faster than his next closest competitor, American Roy Perkins, who won silver with a time of 2:38.56. Brit Andrew Mullen rounded out the race, winning bronze at 2:40.65.
Dias entered Thursday’s race as Brazil’s winningest Paralympic athlete, having won four gold medals in the 2008 Beijing and six in the 2012 London Paralympic Games. Amazingly, all six of his gold medals in 2012 were also world records.
Born with malformed upper and lower limbs, he has a chance to finish the Rio 2016 Paralympics as the most decorated Paralympic men’s swimmer of all-time. Including Thursday’s gold medal, Dias now has a total of sixteen medals. With eight more races to go, he is in striking distance of Australian Matthew Cowdrey, who holds the top spot with 23 medals.
Brazilian sports fans had other reasons to celebrate on day one of the Paralympics. Earlier in the day at the Olympic Stadium in Engenho de Dentro, in athletics (track and field), Odair Santos, won the host nation’s first medal of the Games winning silver in the T11 5,000-meter dash with a time 15:17.55. Kenyan Samwel Mushai Kimani just edged Santos for gold, clocking in at 15:16.11.
Soon after, Brazilian T11 long jumper Ricardo Costa de Oliveira would deliver Brazil’s first gold medal of the Games, executing a perfect final-round leap of 6.52m to beat American Lex Gillette.
Brazil’s fourth and last medal of the day would be Team Brazil’s second in swimming. Following Dias’s emotional victory, Italo Pereira won bronze in the S7 100m men backstroke.
The functional classifications in both swimming and track and field are similar, though track and field contains a larger number of categories. The letter refers to the sport, such as S for swimming and T for track, while, in general, the numbers refer to the level of the impairment’s severity, with a lower number indicating a more severe impairment.
There are also specific classes for different impairments, such as in swimming where S1 to S10 classes are for swimmers with physical and motor limitations, S11 to S13 for visual impairments, and S14 for those with intellectual impairments.
With day one of the Rio 2016 Paralympics in the books, China sits atop the medal table with twenty medals, Team Great Britain is second with eleven medals, with Uzbekistan and the U.S. in third and fourth respectively, with eight medals each. Finally, Brazil rounds out the top five with four medals.