Last Sunday marked the close of the 23rd Deaflympic Games, held in Samsun on Turkey’s Black Sea coast. A total of 3,148 deaf athletes from 97 nations took part in 219 competitions from 21 different branches of sport during the 12-day event.
Russia topped the medals table after a massive haul of 199 medals, including 85 gold. They were followed by Ukraine, Korea, and then host nation Turkey, which won 46 medals: 17 gold, 7 silver and 22 bronze. Britain was ranked 14th in the medals table after winning nine medals.
Recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Deaflympics are specially modified so sports do not involve sounds such as the starter’s gun for races or the referee’s whistle, but instead flags or lights. To participate in the Games, athletes must have a hearing loss of at least 55 db in their ‘better ear’, while hearing aids, cochlear implants and the like are not allowed to be used in competition, to ensure all athletes compete on a level playing field. Spectators also participate in a different way: instead of cheering or clapping to show their support for deaf athletes, they wave their hands.
The first Deaflympics was held in Paris in 1924. Then known as the International Silent Games, it was the first ever multi-sports event for athletes with disabilities. They continue to take place every four years, with both a Summer and a Winter Games that are managed entirely by deaf people.
This year, it was Turkey’s turn to welcome the Deaflympics – the largest international sporting event the country has ever hosted. The 23rd Games opened at the Samsun 19 Mayıs Stadium on 18 July 2017, with a spectacular ceremony that was themed around the Ottomans and Islam, featuring whirling dervishes and a Mehter Takımı (Ottoman military marching band), watched by 35,000 people.
On the sporting field the Turks again excelled in their national sport Greco-Roman Wrestling, taking four golds, with wins for İlhan Çıtan (98 kg) and Mehmet Ali Yiğit (58 kg). The Turkish Men’s Football (pictured above), Handball and Volleyball teams were all crowned Deaflympic Champions.
There were a brace of gold medals in Judo for Erkan Esenboğa (men’s 60 kg), Erkan Esenboğa and Abdullah Sevinç (kata team), and in Karate for Gamze Keresteci (women 68 kg), Burak Mert Can, Mehmet Ali Sapmaz and Fatih Çiçek (men’s Kata team). Turkish women excelled in Taekwondo, winning three gold medals: Ayşe Gül Gökkaya, Aslıhan Savan and Elif Yenigün (Poomsae), Selver Şeker (67+ kg), and Merve Yazıcı (49 kg).
Taking the baton from Taipei (2009) and Sofia (2013 – a last-minute replacement host city), “Samsun did not disappoint” according to the event organisers, who said, “The 2017 Deaflympics have raised the bar for all Deaflympic Games henceforth” thanks to the city’s sporting infrastructure which included new and temporary sports facilities, and the city’s cultural heritage.