Four-time Paralympic medalist Jason Dunkerley (left) and Josh Karanja, who is part of the first set of guide runners to also receive medals at the Paralympics, display their bronze medals from the T11 men’s 1,500 m on the podium in front of a crowd of 80,000 at Olympic Stadium in London. Photo: Ian Ewing
By Dan Plouffe
Ottawa’s Jason Dunkerley kept alive his streak of winning a 1,500 m medal at each Paralympic Games by running the fastest time of his life at age 35 Monday evening at Olympic Stadium in London.
“I’m like a good wine,” the newly-crowned bronze medalist quipped in the media zone. “It always feels good to improve, and I feel like I can still get better.
“It’s exciting to have a good race when the competition’s so much harder than it was when I was younger.”
For the first time ever, a runner who is completely blind broke the four-minute barrier in the 1,500 m as Kenyan Samwel Mushai Kimani won the T11 event in 3:58.37. Brazilian Odair Santos also dipped under his previous world record time with a 4:03.66, while Dunkerley withstood a charge from Chile’s Cristian Valenzuela to earn his podium position by .23 seconds and establish a new personal-best by .49 in 4:07.56.
“The Chilean guys we’d never seen before, and again it just speaks to how people are getting better and forcing us to figure out how to get better too,” highlighted Dunkerley, who won silver in Sydney and Athens and bronze in Beijing. “I was tightening up a little bit in the last 100 or 80 and (guide runner) Josh (Karanja) was just yelling, so I was giving it everything I could.
“It was intense. We were really going for it and I’m really glad we made it.”
For Ottawa’s Karanja, who is attending his first Paralympics and hadn’t guided Dunkerley in a major international race before London, the final stretch was simply nerve-racking.
“I was panicking,” the Nepean High School grad recalled. “I was like, ‘Oh man, we gotta go Jay, we gotta go, they’re coming!’
“We got ’em at the line, so you can’t ask for anything better. We’ve been working hard all year and pushed Jay to his limits, I think. We wanted to come back home with some hardware to show it.”
The Ottawa Lions pair will have a chance to do something Dunkerley has not yet achieved at a Paralympics when they try to win a second medal in the 5,000 m. The heats are on Wednesday with the final on Friday.
“I was really nervous about the 15,” Karanja noted, adding the crowd of 80,000 is deafening. “Now I’m feeling more relaxed about the 5k.”
Dunkerley credits his relatively new partnership with coach Ian Clark and having Karanja to train with locally for pushing him to new heights when most athletes his age are on the down side of their careers. That combined with support from his wife and his parents – who were all in the stands – others back home, and the Canadian team and staff in London.
Achieving the type of performance longevity he’s now displayed is something Dunkerley admits he never fathomed when he started running competitively in high school.
“I was so far away from ever even considering it,” Dunkerley explained. “It’s so different than any other competition. It’s about trying to get it right on one day out of every four years.
“It’s all about getting to the starting line feeling healthy and strong and confident and dealing with a crowd like this and the effects of everything that goes with it.
“It’s been a privilege to be able to have been involved in this sport. I’m very proud that we’re here and we ran well.”