Nigeria’s Mariam Eniola Bolaji, making her international debut at the Spanish Para Badminton International in Cartagena, claimed a stunning gold today - and dedicated it to her late coach, African champion Bello Rafiu Oyebanji, killed in a road accident last month.
Bolaji, who was able to compete as one of the beneficiaries of the Badminton World Federation's (BWF) Female Participation Grant, came from behind in the women’s singles SL3 final to beat experienced Ukrainian Oksana Kozyna 18-21, 21-14, 21-18.
It was the first Para badminton title won by an African outside the continent.
Bolaj’s fellow Nigerian Bello, African champion in the men's SL4 category, had been hoping to qualify for the Paralympics, where the sport is to make its debut.
But he was tragically killed in a traffic collision last month while traveling home from Lagos, where he had visited the Spanish Embassy to obtain a visa for the BWF tournament.
"I dedicate this title to my late coach, Bello Rafiu Oyebanji," Bolaji told the BWF.
She added that she had learned lessons from losing to Kozyna in the group stage.
"I was remembering everything my opponent did to win points so that when I came back, I could win," Bolaji said.
"I didn’t think I could do it - I’m so grateful.
"I am going to celebrate big when I get to Nigeria.
"I have made Africans proud of me."
Bolaji’s new coach, Daniel Sarki, told the BWF website after the quarter-finals that Bolaji had the ingredients to be a player to watch.
"The way Mariam moves, her strokeplay and her determination proves she is a better player than some in her category," Sarki said.
"She’s also a legacy of Bello Rafiu Oyebanji.
"Mariam has the spirit of a great Para badminton player."
While Tokyo 2020 qualification is not a realistic option for such an inexperienced player, the signs for future success look hugely encouraging.
The Female Participation Grant programme offers opportunities for athletes to apply for financial support to attend and be classified at a number of BWF-sanctioned international tournaments each year.
Meanwhile France’s Lucas Mazur earned three golds on the final day of the event.
First he secured the mixed doubles SL3-SU5 title with compatriot Faustine Noel as they beat Daisuke Fujihara and Akiko Sugino of Japan 21-12, 21-8.
Mazur then secured the men’s singles title in the SL4 category, beating Pavel Kulikov of Russia 21-13, 21-8.
He went on to combine with compatriot Abdoullah Ait Bella to win the men's doubles SL5 final, beating Russia’s Oleg Dontsov and Kulikov 21-18, 17-21, 21-14.
Mazur has already secured a place in Tokyo and his goal is gold.
"I’m so happy to represent France, it’s a honour and a pleasure," he said.
"I’m not going to the Paralympics for the photos, I’m going for the title."
England’s world number one Jack Shephard was beaten by compatriot Krysten Coombs in the men’s singles SH6 final.
Shephard, who had reached the final with an impressive 21-12, 21-14 victory over France’s Charles Noakes, was beaten 23-21, 23-21 in a close match.
England earned another gold through Daniel Bethell, who beat Thailand’s Mongkhon Bunsun 21-4, 21-9 in the men’s singles SL3 final.
In the women’s singles SU5 event, Denmark’s Cathrine Rosengren secured gold with a 21-17, 21-12 win over Japan’s Mamiko Toyoda.
Cheah Liek Hou of Malaysia took the men’s singles SU5 title with a 21-13, 21-11 win over Taiyo Imai of Japan.
Norway’s Helle Sagøy won the women’s singles standing lower SL4 final 21-8, 21-7 against Japan’s Haruka Fujino.
The women’s singles WH2 final went to Thailand’s Amnouy Wetwithan, a 21-12, 21-12 winner over Tatiana Gureeva of Russia.
Thailand’s Sujirat Pookkham beat Germany’s top seed Valeska Knoblauch 21-16, 21-7 in the WH1 women's singles final.
And Wetwithan and Pookkham combined to win the women's doubles WH1- WH2 category with a 21-12, 21-5 win over South Korea’s Kang Jung-kum and Lee Sun-ae.
Lee Dong-seop of South Korea won the men’s singles WH1 title, beating Malaysia’s Muhammad Ikhwan Ramli 21-13, 21-16.
In the men’s singles WH2 final, South Korea’s Kim Jung-jun beat Switzerland’s Luca Olgiati 21-10, 21-12.
Lee and Kim combined to win gold in the men’s doubles WH1-WH2 final, beating fellow South Koreans Kim Kyung-hoon and Lee Sam-seop 21-12, 21-15.
Two players were withdrawn from the competition prior to yesterday's play, after one player recorded a positive test for COVID-19.
One French player tested positive and was asked to self-isolate in their hotel room, with a compatriot considered a close contact and also quarantined.
Both players were due to compete in semi-finals, with their opponents granted walkovers.
No further positive COVID-19 tests were reported today.