BLADE JUMPER HAS SOARING AMBITIONS
▶ Markus Rehm lost his lower right leg in a boating accident, but it did not stop him from pursuing sporting excellence
Paralympic champion Markus Rehm looks forward to the day when para-athletes can compete against Olympians.
The German Blade Jumper made the long jump pit look small when he leapt more than eight metres through the air at the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai.
Rehm, who lost his lower right leg in a boating accident when he was 14, said his vision was of a championship where able-bodied and para-athletes compete side by side.
“Athletics is our passion so why should we not compete together?” he told The National. “People watching the Olympics would be interested to see para-athletes because we compete on a high level, we are eye-to-eye. I hope it will happen one day.”
He could not fulfil his ambition to be part of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games over concerns that the blade gave him an unfair advantage. But he maintains that the prosthesis limits his performance since it slows his run-up.
“I never had an accident thinking, ‘I want to be better than others’. This was never my choice,” he said.
“I just replaced what I lost and I have trained as hard as I can to reach this mark.”
At the Games in Dubai this week, he spoke of his determination to push himself even further. “It feels like flying.
You feel the energy going through your whole body,” said Rehm, 31, who competes in the T64 classification for athletes who run or jump with a prosthetic lower limb.
“I want to make the pit look small. Above eight metres feels great but anything above 8.4 metres is like flying.”
The three-time Paralympic and six-time world champion set a world record of 8.48m last year at the World Championships in Berlin and recently leapt 8.5m at an unofficial event in Tokyo in August. He hopes to repeat this in official conditions.
Rehm has big ambitions to beat 8.54m, the German record. He has already bested the 8.38m that won American Jeff Henderson gold at Rio in 2016.
The official world record has stood since 1991, when American Mike Powell soared 8.95m at the World Championships in Tokyo.
In Dubai, Rhem continued his dominance in the field by clinching gold with 8.17m, almost a metre ahead of his nearest competitor.
“That’s my daily motivation – I want to see how far I can go,” he said.
Rehm has come a long way since the accident during a family holiday in Germany.
A wakeboarding enthusiast, the teenage Rhem was being towed by a boat as he manoeuvred behind it.
He lost control, fell into the river and could not dodge a boat directly behind because he was wearing a vest and his legs were fastened to the board.
The boat crashed into his leg and to save his life doctors had to amputate it below the right knee. At first, he said, he struggled to accept the disability.
“I was always the sporty guy in school. I had a picture of myself in my head and suddenly the first time I saw myself in the mirror, I felt I was not a complete person,” he said.
But displaying the resilience that has become his hallmark, he went snowboarding that winter and returned to the accident spot the next summer on a wakeboard, using a prosthesis.
“It was a triumph to go back,” he said. “If you fail in something or something goes wrong, then my motivation is to do exactly the same again because I don’t want to be scared.
“I want to go back and face the fear.”
Rehm also takes on people who dismiss para-athletics as not a proper sporting event.
“Some people say it’s a rehabilitation sport,” he said.
“They say it’s nice but the athletes are not ‘as good’. I want to show them they are wrong.”
A German para-sprinter introduced him to athletics at the age of 20.
“I didn’t want anyone setting my limits,” he said.
“That’s what I want to show young people – that nobody, not even your parents, are allowed to set your limits.”
If you fail in something or something goes wrong, then my motivation is to do exactly the same again because I don’t want to be scared MARKUS REHM
Markus Rehm in action at the Dubai 2019 World Para Athletics Championships