September 7, 2012 will go down as an historic date for Chilean athletics as the Andean nation won its first ever gold medal in the Paralympics, with the triumph of visually impaired runner Cristián Valenzuela in the 5,000-meters T11 track event at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
A time of 15 minutes and 26.26 seconds saw Valenzuela and his guide Cristopher Guajardo take first place, ahead of Canadian Jason Dunkerley (15:34:07) and Japan’s Shinya Wada (15:55:26).
“This is something that I’ve dreamed about for a long time, since I began to run,” an emotional Valenzuela – who began to lose his vision as a young adult – told El Mercurio after his victory.
Valenzuela, who also placed fourth in the 1,500-meter T11 race on Monday September 3, took up running as a way to overcome his unexpected loss of sight.
“Crossing the finish line after everything that has happened to me crossed through my mind, it has been very difficult, and a huge effort,” Valenzuela said. “But this triumph I dedicate to my mother and I am happy to bring this joy to her.”
Valenzuela was out of the country training for the event during his mother’s birthday in August, which she accepted on one condition.
“She asked me for a medal. As a birthday present,” Valenzuela said. “I called her from the medal podium and I told her that I loved her and that she was very important for me.”
The athlete was also quick to thank his guide, Cristopher Guajardo.
“He is my eyes. There is little verbal communication because we have a corporal language – we have trained together for a long time and it is no longer necessary for him to tell me that there is a turn, a straight stretch, or anything. . . he inspired me and we did this together.”
Within moments of his victory social media websites were abuzz with congratulatory messages from Chilean athletes, personalities, and officials, including President Sebastián Piñera.
Cristián Valenzuela is “an example of inner strength, will and overcoming obstacles for all Chileans” tweeted Natalia Duco, who made the shot put finals at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
This post is also available in Spanish