Iranian Paralympics athlete Bahman Golbarnejad died on Saturday, September 17 after crashing on a mountainous stretch of the C4-5 road race at the Rio Paralympics.

According to Masoud Ashrafi, Secretary-General of Iran’s National Paralympics Team, the 48-year-old para-cyclist crashed into a roadside fence during the race and lost control of his bicycle. He sustained head injuries and broke his arm. 

Golbarnejad was taken to Rio United Hospital by ambulance, but went into cardiac arrest minutes after arriving. He died soon afterward.

Bahman Golbarnejad was born in Shiraz, and served in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). While serving, he stepped on a land mine during a night patrol. He lost his left foot and hearing in his left ear. His vision was also damaged. After the accident, he returned to Shiraz, continued his education and began teaching.

As a teenager, Golbarnejad was a keen football player, but after his accident he pursued other sports, including sitting volleyball and weightlifting. The Iranian National Weightlifting Team invited him to train with him, but he felt he would find real enjoyment in another discipline. Soon he tried cycling, eventually pursuing it professionally in 2006. He rose to become the most accomplished para-cyclist in Iran and the Middle East.

Golbarnejad participated in all international tournaments, and covered his own expenses and equipment — a fact he never discussed with the media. Prior to the 2012 London Paralympics, his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Golbarnejad took care of his wife, continued training and his career as a teacher. Despite his achievements as an international athlete representing his country, he did not receive support from Iran’s National Olympics Committee, the country’s Ministry of Sports or any other state-run institute. 

“At the London Paralympics I was not in good psychological shape,” Golbarnejad told the media before heading off to the Rio Paralympics. “Two months earlier my wife had been diagnosed with cancer,” he said, adding that she was confined to bed. At first he said he wouldn’t compete and asked to be taken off the Iranian Paralympics Team. But his wife and family insisted he take part in the Games. However, he failed to complete the road race and did not participate in the time trial bicycle race.

 “I competed at Incheon [ the 2014 Asian Games in South Korea] when she [his wife] had just gone to heaven.”

But this year, he was happy. He was determined not only to cross the finish line but also break a record. He felt confident about his physical shape and was looking forward to the Games. He told reporters he intended to fight with everything he had, and hoped to come in among the top ten cyclists in his classification. He told a reporter that he had gone to Rio to win a medal in tribute to his wife, but asked the reporter not to publish what he had said before the competition — perhaps he worried that this would somehow jeopardize his chances or raise his countrymen’s hopes up unnecessarily. 

The Secretary-General of Iran’s National Paralympics Team informed Golbarnejad’s family of his death soon after the accident. President Hassan Rouhani said the country was “immersed in deep sorrow.”

“This was really an unhappy news,” said Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee a few minutes after the news broke. Other Paralympics officials also expressed their sorrow and the Olympics Village Paralympics flags were flown at half-mast in respect and solidarity. Officials announced that a minute of silence would be observed in honor of Bahman Golbarnejad during the closing ceremony on Sunday, September 18. 

The Paralympic Committee has ordered an investigation into the site of the accident. 

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