Maimed in a horrific bombing, Colombian athlete Juan Jose Florian emerged from South America’s longest conflict with three missing limbs and one clear goal — to win gold at next year’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Florian has fought on both sides of Colombia’s 50-year conflict, first for the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels when still a child soldier, and then for the regular army.
Now he is on the cusp of realizing his biggest dream, competing in next year’s Paralympics in Japan, despite losing both his arms and a leg, blown off when he picked up a booby-trapped package.
“I never imagined myself as an athlete,” he said. “My childhood dream was to be a soldier.”
However, soldiering was cruel to him.
FARC rebels raided his village when he was just 15 and as with many other child soldiers, took him away to enlist in their ranks. The conflict, which has since largely been resolved by a 2016 peace agreement, was raging then.
“At night I watched the bullets fly. It was our fireworks,” Florian said. “Men from the FARC told me to come with them, that I was old enough to carry a rifle.”
“My older brother was in the army. If you gave a son to the government, for them it meant you had to give one to the revolution too,” he said.
He thus became one of the Marxist guerrilla group’s 6,068 child soldiers, according to Colombia’s National Center for Historical Memory.
After nine months he escaped from FARC and surrendered to the Colombian army. When he came of age, he enlisted.
Years later, when his mother was the victim of extortion by the FARC — a favored self-financing technique of the rebels — they left a package outside her shop. Florian picked it up.
After the blast, Florian remembers smoke rising from his skin. He could not feel his arms, or his right leg.
“I told my brother to go and get the rifle and shoot me in the head. Luckily, he didn’t,” he said.
Instead, Florian now sees the bombing that maimed him as a kind of turning point.
“A gift of life,” he said.
After spending 12 days in a coma and undergoing multiple surgeries to patch up his mutilated body, he spent a year doing physical rehabilitation. During that period, the now-retired soldier discovered the Paralympic Games and a love of swimming.
“I swallowed some water, but I wanted to get on the podium,” he said, showing off his first gold medal, won at the 2013 Paralympics in Minneapolis.
However, cycling provided more opportunities to win medals. Colombian Air Force engineers designed carbon fiber supports for the stumps of his elbows and knee. He shifts gears with his mouth and brakes by applying pressure with his thigh.
At 38, he is one of the youngest of 30 athletes classified as C1, indicating the severity of their disability.
“Of all those in my category, I’m the most degraded, the most amputated,” he said self-mockingly, triumphantly raising the stumps of his arms.
The COVID-19 pandemic has deprived him of income from exhibition races and sports conferences, but the postponement of the Paralympics to next year has bought him some time.
“I’ve gained a year to train, and if it’s not Tokyo, it’s going to be Paris” in 2024, he said.
In the modest house they share with their toddler son, his partner and coach Angie Garces manages a sports equipment brand, Mochoman, with him.
“I learned from Juan Jose not to say: ‘I can’t,’ but to persevere,” she said.
Kanako Murata seemed destined to represent Japan at the Tokyo Olympics as a freestyle wrestler, but that all changed when she saw MMA icon Ronda Rousey fight. “It was then that I knew what I wanted to do and I have never regretted it for a moment since,” said Murata, now a rising star with the Las Vegas-based UFC. First inspired by Japan’s Olympic wrestling queen Saori Yoshida, Murata had by her early 20s emerged as a junior world freestyle wrestling champion. Then came the night in 2015 that Murata saw the explosive American former UFC bantamweight champion Rousey in action, and
ADVANTAGE: The world No. 4, who has physiotherapist Victoria Kao as his mentor, cheerleader and critic, said he was lucky Taiwan kept COVID-19 at bay for so long It is an unorthodox approach, but Taiwan’s Chou Tien-chen is hoping his decision to go without a coach will help him win badminton gold at the Tokyo Olympic Games. The world No. 4 has flourished since parting ways with a full-time coach in 2019, with his physiotherapist Victoria Kao filling the role of mentor, cheerleader and critic. With Kao in his corner, Chou won his first Super 1000 title at the 2019 Indonesia Open, and lifted the Taipei Open trophy for a record third time. Now Chou, who reached the last eight at Rio 2016, has set his sights on winning Taiwan’s first
At least two people were hospitalized on Tuesday after a Greenpeace protester crash-landed on the pitch before the Germany-France match at UEFA Euro 2020 when his powered parachute microlight struck spidercam cables atthe Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany. The pilot flew over the pitch just before kick-off in the Group F clash with “Kick out oil” written on the canopy of his parachute. However, when the pilot hit television cables above the pitch, it knocked his microlight off balance and he landed on the turf after clipping one of the stands, where the casualties happened. The pilot was arrested soon after landing. A Munich
‘SPECIAL CORNER’: The Serb left the court after losing the first two sets to compose himself just as he had done in his wins over Lorenzo Musetti and Rafael Nadal Novak Djokovic has set his sights on the “Golden Grand Slam” of all four majors and the Olympic title, saying: “Everything is possible.” The world No. 1 on Sunday captured a second French Open and 19th Grand Slam with a 6-7 (6/8), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win over Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas. It allowed him to become the first man in the Open era, and only third in history, to claim all four Grand Slam titles on multiple occasions. Now he has targeted being the third man to complete a calendar Grand Slam after Don Budge in 1937, and Rod Laver in 1962 and