Norwegian Paralympians earn four medals

The sweet taste of victory

paralympics

Photo: Torstein Bøe / NTB
Norway’s Aida Husic Dahlen prepares to return a volley to China’s Jingian Mao during the table tennis semifinals for Class 8 at the Paralympics on Aug. 28. Mao went on to win gold, with Dahlen grabbing the bronze medal.

MICHAEL KLEINER
Business and Sports Editor
The Norwegian American

Salum Kashafali

Photo: Torstein Bøe / NTB
Salum Kashafali broke into a smile when he crossed the finish line in the Class T12 100m. He won the gold medal and set a new world and Paralympic record of 10.43, breaking the record he set in the qualification heat earlier in the Games.

For Salum Ageze Kashafali and Aida Husić Dahlen, which circumstance of adversity was harder to overcome?

Kashafali grew up in civil war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo, where the daily activity was scrounging for food. In 2003, when he was 9, his family immigrated to Norway, settling in Bergen. Kashafali, 27, was diagnosed with the incurable congenital Stargardt’s disease at age 12. He ran quite well against “able-bodied” athletes. But his vision was worsening—he has 5% acuity, and his sight will only get worse—as he could not see the finish line clearly. In 2019, he started running as a para-athlete in the T12 class. Records began to fall.

Last month, he ran in the Paralympics for the first time. In his heat of the 100m on Aug. 27, he set the Paralympic record, finishing in 10.46, beating Brazil’s Fabricio Barros Ferreira Jr. by 0.67. That time would have been satisfying enough, but Kashafali did one better in the Aug. 29 final.

American Noah Malone and Russian Paralympic Committee Roman Tarasov put up a fight, but they couldn’t stop Kashafali, who set a world and Paralympic record of 10.43. Malone clocked 10.66, Tarasov 10.88. Kashafali usually breaks into a big smile after crossing the finish line. He added a little dance. He once again stood by the scoreboard indicating the record with the Norwegian flag wrapped around his shoulders. At another point, he sat on the track with his head in his hands, crying tears of joy. Prime Minister Erna Solberg, King Harald, and Princess Märtha Louise offered congratulations.

“This gold is all the way from Congo to Norway,” he told the press.

He began to cry as he added, “I don’t know what to say, man. I came from nothing. I came from begging on the streets. I moved to Norway as a refugee. I have been through so much, from bullets to hunger, and to be here as one of the best means a lot to me. I believed. It is worth it. To come from zero to something—that is how to put it. Everything is possible. It’s surreal. You have imagined that you will take the gold but are still very surprised when you reach the finish line. I do not know how to explain it. I am just fantastically happy.”

Upon arriving at Bergen airport, he danced with his sister and showed his gold medal to his proud father.

Aida Husić Dahlen, bronze table tennis Class 8

Dahlen, 30, was born in 1990 in Bosnia and Herzegovina without a left forearm and had her left leg amputated below the knee. In 1992, the Bosnian war broke out. At 6 years of age, she was adopted by a Norwegian couple. A two-time European table tennis champion, a Paralympic medal had eluded her.

In the group stage Aug. 24, Dahlen defeated Lacerda Rodrigues (Brazil) 3-0 (11-6, 11-8, 11-5), at one point scoring 9 straight points, and on Aug. 25 lost to Huang Wenjuan (China) 3-2 after taking the first two sets 11-8, 14-12. Huang won 12-10, 11-7, 12-10. In the quarterfinal Aug. 27, she defeated Zsófia Arlóy (Hungary) 3-1 (14-12, 11-6, 9-11, 11-5). Dahlen won 23 points off her serves, and they each had a stretch of seven consecutive points. That assured Dahlen of at least a bronze medal, since no bronze medal match would be played.

“It’s incredibly delicious,” Dahlen told NRK “I focused on the work tasks and enjoyed the match and gave everything I had.”

That earned Dahlen an Aug. 28 meeting with nemesis Jingian Mao (China), who had beaten Dahlen five times in previous Paralympics and had a bye into the semifinal. Mao swept Dahlen 11-2, 11-3, 11-5. She had an 18-6 advantage on service points and went on to win her fourth straight gold, beating teammate Huang 3-1.

Dahlen found no consolation in finally winning a medal, Norway’s first at these Paralympics, and was visibly upset. “This match was painful to experience,” said Dahlen, according to VG.

Then, on Aug. 31, Dahlen and Nora Korneliussen (Class 7) lost in team table tennis (Classes 6-8) to the Dutch duo of Frederique van Hoof and Kelly van Zon 2-0 (3-2, 3-0). In team play, there is a doubles match, and two singles matches.

“It was smoother in doubles, and it was delicious,” said Dahlen to NRK. “I wish we had won it. We had great chances.”

“I take with me that we can keep up with the best teams in the world,” said Korneliussen, 22, who lost in singles group play to Kübra Korkut (Turkey) 3-0 (5-11, 4-11, 8-11) and Russian Viktoriia Safonova 3-0 (6-11, 5-11, 6-11). “We definitely had chances. I think we played well in doubles, but for me it was a bit many nerves.”

Birgit Skarstein shines gold in Women’s Single Skull Rowing Class PR1 

Photo: Torstein Bøe / NTB Birgit Skarstein took an early lead in the final of women’s single skull rowing class PR1 2,000m. She won her first Paralympic gold medal and Norway’s first gold of the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

After the gold medal race, Birgit Skarstein, 32, revealed to NRK the pre-race plan. “The strategy was to scare the others with a real scare shot from the start and psyche them out a bit. Just before the race, I thought of three things. Put the years behind, go, and quickly return.”

Another step was changing the choice of lanes because of strong headwinds. She made rowing 2,000 meters look so easy. At 500m, Skarstein, who hasn’t lost in four years, had a time of 2:34.81 and 8.47 lead on Israel’s Moran Samuel, who had set the Paralympic record of 10:33.34 in PR1W1xRepage 2 Aug. 28. At 1,000 meters, the lead was up to 12.9 on Samuel, 17.51 on Nathalie Benoit of France. Gliding smoothly at 29 strokes a minute and 10.4km/hour, Skarstein increased her lead to 15.10, 20.70 and 35.5 over fourth place Anna Sheremet (Ukraine) at the 1,500-meter juncture. In the closing meters, Skarstein picked up speed from 10.4km to 11.2km/hr and finished in 10:56.88. Samuel followed in 11:18.39 (+21.51), then Benoit in 11:28.44 (+31.56) and Sheremet another 19.66 back. 

The broadcaster gushed, “She was too good for the competition. This woman was in complete control of this regatta.”

The time was not a record—Skarstein holds the world record—but it didn’t dampen Skarstein’s spirits at all. A smile never left her face as she waved to Norwegian fans, gave thumbs up, received her gold medal, listened to “Ja, vi elsker dette landet.” The three medal winners, now back in their wheelchairs, sat apart. Skarstein brought Samuel and Benoit next to her for a group shot.

“It was a bit like that tricky wind, so you had to regulate all the time and be on the cutting edge so as not to make any mistakes,” said Skarstein, who won Norway’s first gold medal of the Games. “We got to use all the tricks in the book.”

Ann Cathrin Lübbe, Bronze Equestrian, Grade III

Ann Cathrin Lubbe

Photo: Torstein Bøe / NTB
In her sixth Paralympics and at 50 years old, Ann Cathrin Lübbe and her horse La Costa Majlund took bronze in the individual freestyling dressage. In her long career, Lübbe has one gold, four silver, and three bronze Paralympic medals.

In her sixth Paralympics and 50 years old, Ann Cathrin Lübbe knows how to handle the reins. She took bronze in individual freestyle dressage with a percentage score of 76.447 after receiving 68.333 technical points and 79.040 artistic.

“I’m so happy. I did not expect this,” Lübbe told NRK. “I think I had a good flow. I am proud of both myself and the horse. (La Costa Majlund).”

It was the third horse with which she had won a Paralympic medal. In her career, Lübbe has one gold, four silver and three bronze Paralympic medals.

Jens Lasse Dokkan was also competing in his sixth Paralympics. The 60-year-old finished fourth in Dressage Individual Freestyle Test-Grade I with 76.654 points.

Helle Sofie Sagøy, Badminton, SL4 

Helle Sofie Sagøy, 23, swept Group C defeating Caitlin Dransfield (Australia) 2-0 (21-17, 21-13), Olivia Meier (Canada) 2-0 (21-6, 21-8, with a 31-3 advantage on points scored with service), and Chanida Srinavakul (Thailand) 2-0 (21-14, 21-8, with 23-4 advantage on points secured with service).

In the semifinal Sept. 4, Cheng Hefang (China), who won Group D, swept Sagøy 2-0 by 21-15, 21-10. Cheng held a 24-7 advantage on points on serve. 

“I experienced the match as one of the better in the tournament here,” Sagøy told NRK. “It’s a little more my game and goes a little faster, more at my level. She is a better player, and she had some very nice punches that play me out. I did not expect to win today, but I’m not here to lose either. I’m pretty happy, but I could have made a little more play in other sets.”

Cheng advanced to the final against Indonesia’s Leani Ratri Oktila, the Group A winner, who beat China’s Huihui Ma 2-0 (21-12, 21-7). None of the semifinalists lost a set in group play. Ma only needed to win one game in Group B because a player in the group dropped out. 

The bronze medal went to Ma 2-0 (21-12, 21-5, 27-2 points scored with serve). “I wish I could have made it a little tougher for her and not so tough for me,” Sagøy said to NRK. “It’s a shame, but that’s the way it is. She deserves that third place today. I do not get so happy when I make so many mistakes. Things could have gone better, and then I wouldn’t have to ‘fake’ a smile.”

Sagøy was Norway’s flag bearer at the closing ceremonies.

Ida Nesse, 4th Women’s discus, Class F64

The women’s discus for F64 were the two Chinese women and everybody else. Yang Yue and Yao Juan were the last to throw in each of the six rounds. On her first throw, Yang hit 40.48m. Then, Yao nailed 41.41m. The closest any of the other eight got in that opening round was 34.87m by Australia’s Sarah Edmiston. That order stayed the same. On her last throw, Yao set the world record of 44.73m and her shortest toss was the first one. Yang earned the silver.

However, there were six personal bests, including Norway’s Ida Nesse, who had 35.93m on her third toss, besting her previous mark of 34.08m, enabling her to finish fourth. Edmiston had a personal best of 37.85m, giving her the bronze.

Tommy Urhaug, Table Tennis, Class 5

Tommy Urhug, 41, also in his sixth Paralympics, won his Group C opener 3-0 (11-4, 11-7, 11-6) against Mauro Depergola (Argentina), then lost a tough match 3-2 to Mitar Palikuća (Serbia) 10-12, 11-7, 8-11, 11-6, 8-11, then fell in a close quarterfinal to Jack Hunter-Spivey (Great Britain) 2-3 (11-9, 11-13, 9-11, 12-10, 10-12).

Sarah Louise Rung, SB6, SM5, and Fredrik Solberg, Class 59 Swimming

Sarah Louise Rung, 31, who won five medals at the 2016 Paralympics, went home empty handed, finishing sixth in Class SB6 in the 100m breaststroke and fifth in her heat of the SM5 200m individual medley. Fredrik Solberg, 19, was fifth in the Class 59 50m freestyle.

Ida-Louise Øverland, T47 Track

Ida-Louise Øverland, 17, finished fifth in her heat of the T47 200m (27.36) and seventh in her heat of the 100m, but only the first two in each heat advance to the finals.

Heidi Sørlie-Rogne SH2 Shooting

Heidi Sørlie-Rogne failed to qualify for the finals, finishing 22nd in the qualification in class R9 mix 50 meters horizontal SH2 and 31st in n class R5 mix SH2 10 meters.

Medal Count

People’s Republic of China dominated the medal count with 207 overall (96 gold-60 silver-51 bronze), followed by Great Britain (41-38-45-124), Russian Paralympic Committee (36-33-49-118) and the United States (37-36-31-104). Eighty-six countries earned at least one medal.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 17, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Michael Kleiner

Michael Kleiner, business and sports editor, has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business for small businesses, authors and community organizations in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia. Visit Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.

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