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José Sayovo, Angola's gold-winning Paralympic athlete and pride

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José Sayovo, Angola's gold-winning Paralympic athlete and pride
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Jose Sayovo is remarkable. He lost his sight in 1998 when his military convoy ran over an anti-tank mine. It's a time he describes as being extremely difficult, "those who lose their sight, they end up with no reference, there’s no way to get around or walk alone".

Despite this tough situation he was confronted with, as sports lover, the then 26-year-old soon found a new track in life when he was told he could take part in Paralympic sport.

At first, he didn't know how running as a blind person could be possible, but he quickly realised that it was.

He broke world records and won three Golds in the 100, 200 and 400 metres at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens. He then went on to bag more in Beijing in 2008 and then at the 2012 London Games.

He tells us that he is lost for words to describe how it felt running his first race. However, he knew that if he was competing, if he was taking part, it was also because he was one of "the best in the world". "I have to believe in myself and in the work and support of the Angolans", he adds.

Luanda, Angola
Angolans celebrating Jose Sayovo's paralympic achievementsLuanda, Angola

Sayovo became a national hero and a global icon, he became a man that motivated many Angolans, as they looked to reinvent their lives after years of conflict. He remembers the national reaction to his success fondly, "the way the Angolan people received me was something unique. I’ll never forget this".

For other paralympic champions, like the Brazilian Lucas Prado, Sayovo was a rival but also an inspiration. They faced off in the 400-metre final at the London Games in 2012. Sayovo won gold, Prado took silver.

Prado describes Sayovo as "an exceptional person, who pioneered the Paralympic movement, who showed the blind they could achieve their dreams for as long as they want".

Lucas Prado
Brazilian paralympic champion trainingLucas Prado

Prado will always remember Sayovo. In a personal address to the athlete, he explains that "it was you who inspired me and it was you who made me what I am today".

In 2012, in Luanda, Sayovo took on one of the world’s Olympic legends in the 100 metres and won. He beat a blind-folded Michael Johnson at an exhibition event in front of a home crowd.

Luanda, 2012
Michael Johnson running blindfolded against José SayovoLuanda, 2012

"Once you experience it, it’s completely different" is how Johnson describes running without being able to see. He has "a lot of respect for Paralympians and people like Sayovo who doesn’t have the aid of his sight".

Renowned Olympic medallist, Carl Lewis, is now a coach at the University of Houston in the US. He too has big respect for Sayovo’s achievements. He describes him as someone who can see "so much farther into the world than we can imagine". "He became an Olympic champion, a global icon and a national hero, by being able to see farther than anyone else around him", he remarks.

To Sayovo his life and success on the track are simply "a dream come true".