Story highlights

Tallest Paralympian's salvation

Ex-F1 driver defends title

Grandma's gift inspires Brit

Brazil's "Phelps" continues haul

CNN  — 

With Sunday’s spectacular closing ceremony, the 2016 Paralympic Games came to a close.

Fears over ticketing and funding proved largely unfounded and the focus shifted to the athletes breaking records and winning medals.

Here is a selection of the moments that will live long in the memory from Brazil’s first Paralympics.

Iconic Images


Ibrahim Hamadtou hamato rio 2016 paralympics

To witness Ibrahim Hamato play table tennis is to appreciate nothing is impossible.

Having lost both arms in a train accident when he was just 10 years old, the Egyptian could have turned away from the sport he loved forever.

Instead, after a number of failed attempts to hold the paddle, Hamato has fulfilled his dreams to play against the world’s best – amassing millions of YouTube views in the process – throwing the ball up with his toes to serve and holding the paddle in his mouth.

“Everybody should work hard for what they love, and what you think is good for yourself,” the 41-year-old told the International Table Tennis Federation.

“The disability is not in arms or legs; the disability is to not persevere in whatever you would like to do.”

While he may not have made it beyond the preliminary rounds in Rio, Hamato’s legend will continue to endure.

READ: Paralympics day 3, featuring inspiring Ibrahim


Morteza Mehrzadselakjani, known as Merzhad, lines up alongside his Iranian teammates.

The second-tallest man in the world sits to play volleyball.

Standing at eight feet one inch, Iran’s Morteza Mehrzadselakjani suffers from a rare condition called acromegaly.

Habitually relying on a wheelchair or crutches to get around, his height left him feeling depressed and alone … until he found salvation in sport.

Now, with his raised arms stretching over six feet while sitting, his incongruity has made him a star.

“We are going step by step, but we are training him to be the best in the world,” his coach Hadi Rezaeigarkani told the Rio 2016 website

Making a vital save in the men’s gold medal match against Bosnia & Herzegovina Sunday, he returns from Rio a champion.

READ: Iran’s volleyball ace, the tallest Paralympian history


Matt Stutzman archery rio 2016 paralympics

The simple desire to put food on the table motivated Matt Stuzman to take up archery seven years ago

“I couldn’t find a job. I was pretty depressed,” the Kansas City resident admits. “No guy who has kids feels good about not being able to take care of them.”

But the distinctive technique Stutzman initially mastered to hunt has catapulted him to worldwide fame.

The 33-year-old holds the Guinness World Record for archery’s farthest accurate shot, hitting the target with no more than his feet and shoulders from 283.47m away to take the record previously held by an able-bodied competitor.

A silver medalist in London four years ago, Stutzman bowed out in the last eight this time around – losing to Brazil’s Andre Muniz de Castro by a single point (141-142).

But, beyond the bullseyes, this Paralympian defies the odds every time he picks up his bow.

Memorable moments


As Barbara Niewiedział fell face first onto the Rio track, she could have been forgiven for wanting the ground to swallow her up.

But, as the Polish athlete tentatively got to her feet to survey the scoreboard, it emerged her tumble had proved uncommonly timely, bringing her the bronze medal in the women’s T20 400-meter final ahead of her Malaysian rival by just four-hundredths of a second.

Talk about winning by a nose…


In one of the most emotive moments of Rio 2016, former F1 driver Alex Zanardi won paracycling gold on the eve of the 15-year anniversary of the crash that could have taken his life.

Both his car and body were severed in two at Germany’s Eurospeedway that day; his heart stopped seven times, and the Italian was read the last rites with less than a liter of blood left in his body.

But refusing to let his devastating injury define him, he now calls his accident one of the greatest opportunities of his life.

Zanardi hand cycling tease

“Normally I don’t thank God for these type of things as I believe God has more important stuff to worry about, but today is too much, I had to raise my eyes and thank him,” Zanardi told reporters after the race.

“I feel my life is a never-ending privilege.”

Zanardi went on to win silver in the H5 men’s road race a day later, before adding a second gold in the H2-5 mixed team relay.


Having collapsed to the floor in anguish after his Paralympic table tennis final defeat four years ago, Great Britain’s Will Bayley crowned Rio 2016 gold by clambering up onto the table in elation.

READ: Day five highlights

A yellow card for his exuberance was a small price to pay as the 28-year-old hugged everyone from the umpire to English comedian Johnny Vegas.

But his triumph may never have been achieved without a gesture from his late grandmother.

As Bayley battled through both cancer and arthrogryposis as a young boy, her gift of a table tennis table sparked a lifetime’s passion.

And, having initially celebrated like footballer Eric Cantona to the dismay of his Brazilian competitor Israel Pereira Stroh, he eventually broke into floods of tears on live television, telling official UK broadcaster Channel 4: “This is for my grandma. I miss her and I hope she’s watching me.”



While Great Britain basks in its best Paralympic performance since 1984, the legendary Sarah Storey continues to cross the line first, collecting three cycling golds in Rio to take her overall tally to 14 across two sports.

The 38-year-old had previously won five Paralympic swimming medals, starting out at Barcelona 1992 when only 14 years old.

Over two decades on, having becoming a mother in the aftermath of London 2012, she finished the C4-5 individual pursuit in her fastest time yet.

Storey is now GB’s most decorated female Paralympian, having overtaken wheelchair racer Tanni Grey-Thompson.


Daniel dias paralympic swimmer

The comparisons to Michael Phelps are irresistible, but Brazilian swimmer Daniel Dias is making waves of his own.

With nine medals at Rio alone, the 28-year-old now has a total of 14 golds to his name.

Already Brazil’s most decorated Paralympian, he’s now the most successful male Paralympic swimmer in history.


tatyana mcfadden paralympics

Born with paralyzing congenital disorder Spina bifida, Tatyana McFadden spent the first six years of her life in Russia walking on her hands.

Left in an orphanage by her mother, her health deteriorated and doctors feared she wouldn’t live long.

That was until she met Deborah McFadden, an American visitor who would go on to adopt her.

Two decades on, having been brought up to believe she can overcome any obstacle, the 27-year-old competed in every Rio 2016 wheelchair racing event from the 100 meters to the marathon.

She left Rio with six medals from seven events, and a special IPC award for exemplifying the spirit of the Paralympic Games.

McFadden and Syrian refugee swimmer Ibrahim Al Hussein each received pure gold medals weighing 75 grams at the closing ceremony.


Smyth and Durand Paralympics 100m fastest sprinters rio 2016

The fastest Paralympians on earth duly delivered.

After claiming the T13 100m title in Beijing and London, Ireland’s Jason Smyth made it three in a row in Rio, finishing 0.14s ahead of Namibia’s Johannes Nambala in a time of 10.64s.

Despite being diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease as a boy – leaving him with less than 10% of his vision – the 29-year-old has also competed in able-bodied meets, clocking a personal best of 10.22s.

Meanwhile, Cuba’s Omara Durand won a very different sprinting Triple, topping the Rio podium in the women’s T12 100m, 200m and 400m.

Even deteriorating eyesight hasn’t slowed this sprinter down, as the 24-year-old set a new 100m world record of 11.40 seconds.

READ: No Stopping Durand

Rio firsts and broken records


Malaysia had never won gold in the entire history of the Paralympics before promptly winning two in the space of an evening.

Mohamad Ridzuan Mohamad Puzi was first, setting a new Paralympic record on the way to taking the T36 100m final.

And Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli won the men’s F20 shot put final, smashing the world record in the process.

READ: Malaysia makes history on day 3


India also made history, as 45-year-old shot putter Deepa Malik became its first female Paralympic medal winner.

“I dared to dream … I am so happy that I can give this to my country,” Malik told the Games’ official website after taking silver in the F53 class.


As great weights were lifted, world records fell.

Roland Ezuruike started the gold rush, lifting four times his body weight in the men’s -54 kg final.

Lucy Ejike shattered all records three times in succession by lifting 136 kg, 138 kg and eventually 142 kg to win the women’s -61 kg division.

READ: Powerlifters elevate Nigeria to greatness on day 7

All in all, Nigeria won six golds, two silvers and a bronze under the bright lights of Riocentro Pavilion 2.

With an unprecedented haul of eight gold medals overall, Nigeria has its Paralympic powerlifters to thank.