LONDON—Nicaraguan athlete Gabriel Cuadra, 22, is Nicaragua’s latest Olympic hero after setting a new American record in this year’s Paralympic Games in London.
On the last day of Nicaragua’s involvement in the Games, Cuadra was quick out of the starting blocks in the 800m. Sixteen minutes earlier he had recorded a “season’s best” time in the 200m with 33.11 seconds, although it was not quick enough keep him off last place in a very fast race.
But in the 800m, Cuadra picked up his pace even more and smashed the old American record by over six seconds. The previous record was held by Tommy Chasanoff of the United States.
“I was not nervous, I ran relaxed; I never even thought of a record or winning a medal, just to improve my time,” Cuadra said after the race.
Though Cuadra’s record-setting performance was not good enough to earn him a medal in the Games, his performance was celebrated with gusto. In the end, the Nicaraguan athlete placed seventh out of eight runners with a time of 2:23.93 seconds in a quick race; the winner recorded a new Paralympic record.
“There are several things to note,” coach Orlando Sevilla said of Cuadra’s performance. “Gabriel was the youngest in his class, he broke the America record, and that puts him at number one, and he was ranked number seven in the world.”
Sevilla noted that Cuadra’s record-setting performance comes at the same time as the 25th anniversary of “Los Pipitos,” a Nicaraguan association that works with handicapped children and their parents.
As Cuadra and his team celebrated, Nicaragua’s participation in the Paralympics was brought to an end. So were the Games a success? Unquestionably, yes! For a start, this was only the second time Nicaragua had competed in the Paralympic Games. The first time was in Athens in 2004, when Nicaragua’s sole representative, Mario Madriz, ran in the 100m and the 5000m. This year the number of athletes doubled with the participation of Cuadra and Vanessa Benavides, 19.
Benavides, who was born blind, did not run fast enough to progress any further than the heats, but her participation in the Games was a success as she improved her “season’s best” time in both the 100m and 200m, with 16:07 seconds and 33:51 seconds respectively.
The success of the Games will also be judged by how much it helps to improve support and development for those with disabilities back in Nicaragua. Before the Games, Cuadra said, “You need to develop a policy level. We have to prepare, we have to train coaches and athletes too, because there is not much support.”
A month earlier, Olympic boxer Osmar Bravo did his country proud and has since became a role model for thousands of young Nicaraguans back home. Now Nicaragua’s new record breaker, Gabriel Cuadra, will also become an inspiration and role model for his country.
David Hutt is a freelance writer from London, UK, who will be on the trail of Latin America during the next year and will be working as a tour guide in León, Nicaragua. Follow his travels and misadventures on his blog, and follow him on twitter @davidhutt1990