Pyambuu Tuul

Pyambuu Tuul: A courageous Olympic story worth revisiting

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The moving personal stories of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics began with the cauldron lighter, Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo, who limped from polio contracted at age 8. The Games ended with another triumphant athlete.

Mongolian Pyambuu Tuul was the very last person to compete at those Olympics. Tuul was 87th of 87 finishers of the men’s marathon, jogging in thick glasses and a T-shirt. It took him 4 hours, 44 seconds, which marked the slowest Olympic marathon time since the 1908 London Games. He finished almost an hour after the 86th-place runner.

The marathon, traditionally held on the final day of the Olympics, usually ends in the Olympic Stadium with preparations under way for that night’s Closing Ceremony. Tuul, 33, had to finish on a practice track outside the stadium, as it was approaching 10:30 local time and the ceremony already happening.

Turns out, Tuul was blind for 12 years from 1978-90 after a pump exploded while he worked construction in Mongolia. Operations in Mongolia and the Soviet Union, hoping to restore his sight, were unsuccessful.

“The first two years [after the accident] was the most difficult period,” Tuul said before the Olympic marathon, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I was very unhappy. Angry. Always depressed. Because I could see at one time, though, it helped me in my orientation.”

Then the Achilles Track Club, a New York-based group that supports disabled runners, found and invited him to run the 1990 New York City Marathon with a guide. The group also set him up with the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. A January 1991 cornea transplant brought back partial vision in his right eye. He was able to see his wife and 6- and 8-year-old daughters for the first time, according to El Pais.

“When the bandages were removed, the first thing I saw were blue eyes [the doctor’s],” Tuul said, according to the AJC. “I could see a nose, a face. As the days went on, my focus got better and better. I see very good now.”

On that night in Barcelona, officials applauded Tuul as he came to a stop on the practice track, hands on knees in exhaustion.

“It is most important for me to participate, not win or finish high,” Tuul reportedly said. “I want to show that a man has many possibilities.”

Attempts to find an update on Tuul this spring, through the Mongolian National Olympic Committee, Achilles’ Mongolia chapter and the New York doctor who reportedly performed his operation, John Seedor, were unsuccessful.

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