x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Spanish swimmer goes from prison to Paralympian

Paralympic Spanish swimmer Sebastian Rodriguez does not look back at his violent past - he was in prison for his part in the political murder of a businessman - and only looks forward to competition.

Sebastian Rodriguez of Spain lost the use of his legs while on a hunger strike in prison.
Sebastian Rodriguez of Spain lost the use of his legs while on a hunger strike in prison.

LONDON // In 1985, Sebastian Rodriguez was sentenced to 84 years in jail for his part in the political militant murder of a businessman.

But the former criminal has since turned his attention over to swimming, and his silver medal in the 200 metres freestyle was his second at the London Paralympics.

Rodriguez was a member of the ultra left-wing group Grapo behind the murder of Rafael Padura, a Spanish business leader.

His journey from convict to Paralympian began when he embarked on an extended hunger strike while in jail that resulted in him losing the use of his legs.

Given parole in 1994, Rodriguez was pardoned by the Spanish government five years ago despite protests from the victim's family.

Rodriguez made his Paralympic debut in 2000 when he won five gold medals at the Sydney games.

But at the time, he told Games officials he had lost the use of his legs in a car accident.

When his violent past emerged, after Sydney, it led to calls for him to be stripped of his medals before it was decided that no rules had been broken.

He went on to win another seven medals at the Athens and Beijing Games and is now determined not to let his history keep him from a sporting career.

"The past cannot be erased. There is no use in beating me in the chest and demanding that I repent," Rodriguez has been previously reported as saying.

He was defeated by Brazil's Daniel Dias in the 200m final on Saturday. Dias streaked away from the field to win comfortably just as he did in the 50m freestyle on Thursday. Rodriguez will also be competing in the 4x100m freestyle relay and in the 100m freestyle on Saturday.

Boccia got under way yesterday, a sport for disabled athletes that players say combines the tactics of chess and the precision of snooker.

Similar to boules, boccia is one of the few Paralympic sports with no Olympic equivalent, and the crowd at the ExCeL exhibition centre's South Arena 1 were soon getting into the action despite many having no prior knowledge of the game.

"Boccia is a tactical sport like chess, snooker and boxing rolled into one," said Ireland's Padraic Moran, following a 17-3 defeat in the team event to world No 1 South Korea.

"So you don't really play boccia, you play a mixture of other games. That's why it's a difficult game and such a good sport.

"And this is the best job in the world to have."

Boccia players throw, kick or use a ramp to propel a ball from a seated position so that it lands as close as possible to the "jack" target ball.

The leather balls containing plastic granules are designed to roll, although skilful players can make them bounce.

In each "end" in the match, the winning side scores one point for each ball they got closer to the jack than their opponents.

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