With nearly 300 medals up for grabs going in today’s Track and Field finals, countries had a chance to add big to their medal count.
Jordan, however, just wanted to get on the medal board, and did so in spectacular fashion. Jehad Bani Omar bested Bari Henry of New Zealand at standing shot put to give his homeland its first gold medal of the Games.
After his dominant performance, Bani Omar gushed about how important the Games are to his people and what bringing Jordan its first medal meant to him. “These sports, they give us hope,” Bani Omar said through a translator. “It gives us an opportunity to meet the other nations and give us another chance after our injuries.”
His colleague, Ulfat Al-Zwiri, the only woman in the Jordan team here, did not medal but inspired everyone trackside just by finishing her 100 metres dash, pushing herself forward valiantly down the track to the finishing line where she received rousing applause from admiring participants and spectators, including her parents, for her resolve to complete her event and epitomizing the Invictus spirit.
“We are all very proud of Ulfat. We hope the bravery and sense of purpose she displayed in coming here to participate in the Games and the challenges she faced and has overcame just to participate here will shatter stereotypes. We hope she will become a role model for a new generation of women in Jordan as well as for injured soldiers to show it is possible to conquer barriers and obstacles in your way and that sport can help this; that sport can give your another chance,” according to a member of the Jordanian delegation.
This hope to inspire fans globally remained palpable on the infield at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, as many of the competitors cited the push of their homeland as their driving motivation to compete in the Games. Alex Nguyen of the U.S., however, had some other added incentive.
“[My performance] shows I’m one of the top competitors in the Military,” said Nguyen after being in the medal hunt at sitting Shot Put. “My kid can look back on me and say ‘My dad’s an awesome thrower’ or ‘He plays great at basketball,’ so that makes me feel great.”
Nguyen and the U.S. found itself an interesting rival in the infield, as the Australians and Americans continued cracking jokes and barbs throughout the medal round. Dennis Ramsay of Australia sat through a number of his American counterparts’ sessions and enjoyed the relaxed nature of it, despite everyone staying hungry for the gold.
“I’m back on the battlefield, but a friendly battlefield with a lot of banter,” Ramsay said of the atmosphere at the Games. “I love it, [the banter] is all part of it.
The social environment of this competition appears to be unparalleled according to competitors from various nations. New Zealand’s captain Dave Sheriff, who wasn’t participating in these events, came out to show support for friends from a handful of other nations as well as his own. He realizes how vital being in the presence of other disabled soldiers to building a support system and recovering.
“[Adaptive sports] are great for you physically and emotionally, but also socially,” said Sherriff. “You meet people with similar disabilities to yourself that some of the guys from your home nation might not have, and you can learn off of each other and can appreciate someone who knows your experience.”
The support from teammates and other nations can be seen all over the infield in the medal round, but that’s been complimented by the arrival of many family members and friends of the competitors. When asked what the driving force both in his life and when he competes is, the United Kingdom’s Nathan Cumberland didn’t hesitate to credit sports for pushing him forward, but like Nguyen, there was no mistake in his top motivator.
“My wife and my boy; family’s the most important thing,” Cumberland said after celebrating a strong throw with his coaches and teammates. “If they say they are proud of me when I’m out here, then that’s all I need.”
The message coming from the session in the end was how much excitement the competitors felt for being given the opportunity to battle again under their flags. As best described by Bani Omar:
“Our king, he supports us. Our fans, they support us. We couldn’t be more proud to be in America for all Jordanians.”