Gabriel Bandeira had never swum in an international Paralympic event until three months ago. Today (25), he put on his chest his first Tokyo Paralympic Games gold medal, and probably not the only one. At 21, he left behind a prejudice from society and himself to accept himself as a person with an intellectual disability and, as a consequence, join the Paralympic movement.
Born in Indaiatuba, in the interior of São Paulo, Bill, as he is known in the sports world, has the gift to be a swimmer according to his current coach, also young Alexandre Vieira, who is only 33 years old. Throughout his youth, he pursued the dream of being an Olympic athlete, participating in the main national championships in conventional swimming until 2019, defending one of the largest team in the country, Minas Tênis Clube, from Belo Horizonte (MG).
It was there that one of the coaches of the Brazilian Paralympic team, Luis Antônio Cândido, met Bill and identified an intellectual disability in the swimmer due to the difficulties he showed when following the guidelines given in training. He, however, showed no interest in receiving a diagnosis. He changed his mind, however, in late 2019, when he was subjected to a battery of IQ (intelligence coefficient) tests conducted by a neuropsychologist.
In these tests, which were completed in early 2020, his IQ was measured to be below 75. This means that the swimmer has an intellectual disability and is therefore eligible for Paralympic sport, “Gabriel has very strong support from his family, and everything was easier for acceptance because the family accepted it before him. His family is very top. “, says Alexandre Vieira.
Disability, however, does not take away the ability of the swimmer – who has also been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – to study or get a driver’s license, for example. “He did well at school. He had difficulty paying attention, but he accompanied the class, took extra classes, his grandmother encouraged him. It was never a problem for him”, explains the coach.
Upon migrating to Paralympic sport, Gabriel left Minas, which does not have a Paralympic team, and accepted the invitation to join the Praia Clube team, from Uberlândia, led by Alexandre. Right on its debut, in February 2020, in a regional competition, it broke the Brazilian record in the S14 class, the only one for the intellectually disabled in swimming, in four races.
But then came the pandemic, the postponement of the Paralympic Games and the cancellation of the stage of the international circuit held in São Paulo. The Paralympic movement requires that an athlete undergo functional classification in an international event and, to make Gabriel able to compete in the Tokyo Games, the Brazilian Paralympic Committee (CPB) needed to get Brazil accepted as a guest in the European Championship, held at the end of May in Portugal.
In Funchal, at the European Championship, Gabriel won six events, five of which are played in the Paralympic Games, and set six new continental records. So a specialist in butterfly swimming, he was already training to use his excellent swimming technique to also achieve good results in competitions in the four styles and also in the medley.
Finally, fit for the functional classification held in Portugal, he would later reach the necessary indexes in the selective disputed in São Paulo. Classified in five races, he arrived in Tokyo as one of the three best in the world in all of them and as a strong candidate to help the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay to also take the podium.
“The objective is not to break a record, to make the best mark in life, it is to fight for a medal. Regardless of the race, he is on the podium among the top three. The hardest race for him to achieve this is the 100m breaststroke, but even so he has great chances”, believes the coach.
If all goes well, Gabriel should fill a gap left, in Paralympic swimming, by the functional disqualification of André Brasil, whose physical disability no longer puts him in a position to be eligible for the Paralympic movement. André won five medals in both Beijing-2008 and London-2012, four and three gold, respectively.