Athletes described sport as their “joy of life” on the eve of the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai.
Para-athletes from 122 countries jogged, stretched, used prosthetic blades or wheelchairs on Wednesday evening as they completed their training routines across three venues in the emirate.
Two-time Paralympic champion Abdellatif Baka said he had trained hard in a bid to strike gold again after a stunning triumph in the 1,500 metre T13 at the Rio Paralympics three years ago.
“This (sports) is my joy of life. I have come to Dubai to maintain my title and get the gold again,” he said.
The athlete made headlines in Rio de Janeiro in September 2016 when he won the 1,500 metre event with a time that was faster than the gold medal winner at the Olympics a month before.
Baka had won the gold in a time of 3:48.29. This was 1.71 seconds faster than the time clocked by US athlete Matthew Centrowitz.
The World Para Athletics Championships is the last opportunity for competitors to guarantee their place at the Paralympics in Tokyo next year.
Athletes competing in the T13 race are blind but do not need a guide to run with them. Paralympic sports use classifications to group athletes based on the range of their disability to ensure fair competition for all.
Dubai will be the debut world championship for the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.
Javelin thrower Ken Kahu acknowledged he was nervous ahead of his first major sporting contest.
“I’m very excited but I feel a little scared,” he said.
“I look forward to watching other athletes and to making my country proud.”
More than 1,400 athletes will compete for a place on the podium in 172 events at the world’s biggest competition before the Tokyo Paralympics next year.
Athletes have said the games encourages conversations about disability and the widespread need for increased inclusion across the globe as people understand the challenges faced by competitors with special needs.
For Baka, it was a simple formula.
“Sports is vital for me,” he said.
“It reduces stress, improves life and I ask everyone to take up a sport.”
The track and field competitions will be held from November 7 to 15 at three venues; the Dubai Club for People of Determination, Al Wasl and the Dubai Police Officers Club.
Hosts UAE will have 18 athletes in their ranks including three previous Paralympic medal winners at the championships.
Russia has the biggest contingent of 112 athletes and will be participating for the first time in three years after the lifting of the suspension for a state-sponsored doping programme.
The races will be shown live on the Dubai 2019 World Championships website and the World Para Athletics Facebook page.