Swimmer Juan Castillo’s unexpected first place finish on Monday, August 10 gave Cuba its fourth gold medal at the V Parapan Am Games in Toronto. Castillo won the 100 m butterfly S9 at the Parapan Am Aquatics Centre in Scarborough, while his compatriot Yunerki Ortega won his second silver.
Castillo, a rookie at the Parapan Am Games, had a 50m split of 29.49 seconds and finished with a time of 1:03.40 minutes. He set a Games record on top of qualifying for the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro 2016. His previous best time was 1:05.89, achieved this year in the CAIXA Lotteries meet in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Castillo defied predictions by beating Argentina’s Marco Pulleiro, who came in only 0.14 seconds behind. Puillero is the Guadalajara 2011 champion and was seventh in the recent World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland,
Castillo, who is only 17 years old, previously swam on the Cuban national team before being afflicted by Guillain-Barré syndrome. His current coach Ernesto Garrido asked him to continue competing in parasports.
“I knew it would be difficult to secure a medal as this is my first competition at such a level. But I didn’t want to lag behind my compatriots, and I wanted to show my family and the Cuban people what I could achieve here,” said Castillo.
The young swimmer has dedicated the last nine years to high level sports, practicing in the Cesareo Fernandez pool in the Miramar neighborhood of Havana. It was there that Castillo received the official medical classification to compete in parasports.
“I was undergoing rehabiliaton for my condition when [coach] Garrido told me to start training with them. I was able to return to the sport which I consider my life, and now I will train for even bigger achievements,” Castillo told JIT before leaving for the medal ceremony.
Minutes after Castillo won his gold, the blind swimmer Yunerki Ortega failed to repeat his Guadalajara 2011 gold medal win in the 100 m breaststroke S11, placing second with a time of 1:22.68 minutes. The gold medal went to Colombian Brayan Urban with a time of 1:19.07 – a Games record.
Later that day, Castillo competed again, this time placing fourth in the 50 m freestyle S9.