He may have been disqualified despite his stunning performance, but for Malaysians, Paralympian Muhammad Ziyad Zolkefli will always be a champion.
Just after clinching the gold medal in the shot-put event, he was disqualified on technical grounds, a decision Malaysia appealed but was rejected by the World Para Athletics (WPA).
He had won the gold medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
View this post on Instagram
Ziyad’s victory was apparently contested by the Ukraine camp which claimed he showed up late to the roll call area prior to the shot-put event.
Despite showing off a world-class performance in the final event – and setting a world record with a throw of 17.94m – Ziyad’s performance was erased after he was classified as “did not start” (DNS).
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics’ official site later showed Maksym Koval, from Ukraine, placing first in the men’s shot put (F20) final, with a throw of 17.34m. Oleksandr Yarovoi from Ukraine claimed the silver medal, while Efstratios Nikolaidis from Greece took home the bronze medal.
Apart from Ziyad, Australian athlete Todd Hodgetts and Ecuadorian athlete Jordi Patricio Congo Villalba were also disqualified by the Tokyo Paralympics technical committee on the same alleged grounds. All three were listed as DNS in the event.
The turn of events has left Malaysians enraged and upset, with many expressing their dissatisfaction through their social media accounts, including the comments section of several Paralympic Games verified Facebook pages.
Malaysians have hailed Ziyad a hero regardless of what had happened.
Among those who joined the chorus of support include Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin and others.
Khairy tweeted “This is a shameful decision. An absolute disgrace that goes against the spirit of the Paralympics. If it was a call room violation you should have not allowed them to compete in the first place. Mean spirited and petty. A stolen gold medal and world record.”
Following the public outcry, Ziyad addressed Malaysians on his Instagram where he humbly apologised, saying, “I ask all Malaysians for forgiveness. Thank you for supporting me.”
Fellow national athletes joined in on the support for Ziyad too, with Olympian Pandelela Rinong, for one, tweeting, “Anything can happen in sport, but this one so far the most shocking and made me speechless. #staystrongZiyad”.