The athlete from Velika Gorica’s Uspona won bronze five years ago in Rio de Janeiro, but now he has gone a step further, achieving the greatest success in his career.
After an exhausting and long competition, Šandor reached silver with 19.98 meters, while the gold was won by Poland’s Piotr Kosewicz who was four centimeters better. The bronze was won by India’s Vinod Kumar, throwing 19.91m, and Latvia’s legendary Aigars Apinis, who boasts eight Paralympic medals in discus and shot put, was fourth in the end (19.54).
“This is a miracle; I don’t know what happened in general. I know I’m in Tokyo, but I don’t know where I am because my soul and body are somewhere else,” said Šandor, who is in a wheelchair after a car accident in 2006.
He admitted that waking up in the hospital after the car accident was one of the most difficult experiences, and this medal was the most emotional moment. He dedicated the medal to his mother with tears in his eyes. She passed away last year.
“This is definitely the most emotional moment, and I dedicate this medal to my mother, who left me last year. She pushed me into sports, motivated and encouraged me. So this is a dedication to her and mom; thank you very much. I know that you directed this,” added the athlete.
Interestingly, Šandor won Croatia’s first medal in Rio, just like in Tokyo.
“Sloup and I joked about the Paralympic Games starting with us. So they have to put me in Paris on the first or second day to open Croatia’s series.”
He admitted he hoped for bronze but won silver, with just four centimeters behind gold.
“As rower Damir Martin, whom I highly appreciate, said, this is not silver; it is not even platinum, this is a meteorite that fell.”
The discus throwers arrived at the stadium as early as 5 pm; the competition started at 7:30 pm local time and ended around 10 pm. Šandor threw the seventh of eight finalists.
“I lost my strength while waiting; I froze; if I were second or third, I would surely throw over 20 meters. We have waited too long; this needs to be accelerated in the future.”
He added that the Paralympic postponement came in handy to put all his dice on a new medal.
“Five years have passed since the medal in Rio, which is not small. So this year of delay is welcome to put things in order, to prepare both physically and mentally,” he added.
His only regret is that he will not be able to see Tokyo as a tourist.
“Disappointing that we can’t see any corner of this city. I am impressed with how they built all this and how they live in this anthill. I’m sorry I can’t experience this for at least 15 minutes.”
He discovered that a lot had changed in his life after Rio. So he started training even harder and resigned two years ago so he could prepare for the Paralympics.
“I threw 18.23 in Rio, today 19.98. That is almost two meters more, which is not a small amount in sports. I used to spend a lot of energy on work and training.”
In the end, he had a message to those who consider these Games and this sport a “circus.”
“Whoever thinks this is “come, throw, and win a medal,” just let them try. Behind all this is enormous work and effort, and I want to thank coaches Ivan Čengić and Miovil Rendulić because, without them, there would be no medal.”
In 2006, at the age of 20, Velimir was in a car accident on his way back from a football tournament. He landed with the car in a ditch and awkwardly hit the car’s roof, breaking his sixth cervical spine. He was diagnosed with tetraparesis, with partial arm movements and leg sensations, and little movement.
After completing a six-month rehabilitation in Varaždinske Toplice and after a two-year recovery in 2009, he became involved in athletics for people with disabilities.
Šandor hinted at his potential in Sochi at the World Games, where he won gold. In Doha at the 2015 World Cup, he was third, and in 2016 at the European Championships, he won silver.
A year later, he also won silver at the World Championships in London, and this year he was third at the European Championships in Poland.
His coach Ivan Čengić did not hide his enthusiasm for the silver medal either.
“When I entered this amazing stadium, I thought how great it would be to win a medal here. It’s a wonderful feeling; I knew he could still, but everyone’s fatigue coincided, and in the end, he won silver,” said Čengić.
“We have made a step higher than Rio de Janeiro, and Paris is close. We still have gold left. I will not exaggerate, but this is a great success,” he added.
He also commented on Šandor’s technical performance.
“He could have been better; he was a little stiff. If it had gone easier, he would have safely threw 20 meters,” he said.
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