Arab-Israeli swimmer scores gold medal in Paralympic Games

Iyad Shalabi is the first Arab-Israeli to ever win an Olympic medal. 

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

After scoring two gold medals in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Israel won yet another gold medal in the Paralympic Games currently taking place in Japan.

Iyad Shalabi, an Israeli Arab from the northern municipality of Shfar’Am, won Israel’s first Paralympic gold medal since 2012 on Wednesday, after finishing the 100 meter backstroke in 2 minutes and 28 seconds.

Deaf from birth, Shalabi was seriously injured in a car accident at the age of 13 and was left paralyzed from the waist down. He uses a wheelchair in his daily life.

He is the first Arab-Israeli to ever win an Olympic medal.

“My heart was pounding. When he overtook his competitor, I cried,” Shalabi’s father, Yusuf, told Israeli media.

“He was constantly training. [For] six years, every day he trains. It’s like a dream come true.”

Regional Cooperation Minister Isawi Frej congratulated Shalabi on Twitter, saying that his achievement “honors the Arab sector and the State of Israel as a whole.”

Ron Balutin, the head of Israel’s Paralympic delegation, said that Shalabi’s victory was the perfect way to open the games for Team Israel.

He told Israeli media that Shalabi is a regular on the Israeli Paralympic team, having competed in several previous games.

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“[We’re feeling] huge excitement, not just because it’s a gold medal…because it was Iyad’s,” said Baultin.

“This is his first time winning a medal, and he’s a man who has a special place in all of our hearts…I have tears [in my eyes], it’s the most exciting medal that could be.

“At the end of [the event] there was a tight race, but it’s a wonderful start to the games.”

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Halabi on Twitter, writing, “You are gold! I salute you for a tremendous achievement. Well done!”

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper said in a statement, “Iyad is an inspiring man whose life is full of victories, and today he delivered another brilliant victory.

“Iyad wasn’t intimidated by the high expectations and filled us all with great pride.”


Tobias Siegal contributed to this report.