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Peter Genyn sprints to Paralympic gold, despite vandalism to chair

16:53 06/09/2021
The Paralympic Games in Tokyo have come to a close, with Belgium bringing home 15 medals – and becoming the subject of global headlines when someone tried to sabotage the wheelchair racing team

The Paralympic Games in Tokyo have come to a close, with Belgium bringing home 15 medals. The 32 athletes who took part in the Games won four gold, three silver and eight bronze medals.

It was a good showing for Belgium, which went into the Games with a goal of earning at least 10 medals. Belgians earned three medals going in to the final four days of the Games: A silver for cyclist Tim Celan in the class T1-T2 road race, bronze for Roger Habsch in the class T51 100m, and gold for Peter Genyn, also in the 100m sprint.

Habsch and Genyn had taken bronze and silver, respectively, in the class T51 200m earlier in the week. The class T51 wheelchair race is one of the Paralympic Games’ most popular event. The gold medal win was particularly significant for Genyn (pictured above) – because his wheelchair sprinter had been vandalised before the race.

The T51 class uses very cool-looking racing wheelchairs that incorporate a third wheel, sticking out the front. When Genyn arrived for the pre-race warm-up, he found his frame broken and all three tyres slashed.

“Pure sabotage,” said Genyn. “Someone must have been very worried about me. Such a massive coward.”

Record-breaking gold

Wheelchair racers cannot simply use another chair because they are custom made for their bodies. So the Belgian team had two hours to replace all the tyres, fix the frame and tune the bike back up. Even the Dutch team jumped in to help.

Genyn then hit the track and won the race. He not only got the gold medal, he broke the Paralympic record. “My chair was held together with duct tape,” he said. “It was far from perfect.” Then, clearly speaking directly to whoever vandalised his chair, he said: “Then you can really see who can race with the chair – and who can’t.”

It was revealed later that two-time bronze medallist Habsch also had his chair vandalised, as did their teammate Joyce Lefevre. No other team faced such sabotage during the Games, so it seems that someone had it in for the Belgian wheelchair sprint team – or perhaps just for Genyn, the favourite in the race, but didn’t know which chair belonged to him.

Belgium has submitted a formal complaint to the Paralympic committee. There is little chance of finding the culprit: There were no cameras in the space where the sprint wheelchairs were kept, in the huge labyrinth that is the Olympic stadium. Anyone with an accreditation – from athletes to trainers to staff and journalists – can access the area.

Photo: Peter Genyn broke the Paralympic T51 class 100m record with his gold-medal win
©Jasper Jacobs/BELGA


Written by Lisa Bradshaw