4 Wheelchair Titles in 4 Top Marathons

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SUB-wheelchair-articleLargeNothing could stop Tatyana McFadden’s race toward a milestone — not the headwind, not the concern about another searing rib injury, not the threat of another crippling flat tire and certainly not the other female wheelchair competitors Sunday in the New York City Marathon. McFadden sped past them all.

With her win in 1 hour 59 minutes 13 seconds, McFadden, 24, completed a Grand Slam in distance racing, becoming the first person to win four major marathons in a year (Boston, London, Chicago and New York). She also won here in 2010.

In 2009 and 2011, her tires were punctured along a rutty city street, costing her positioning. But there was no such misfortune Sunday.

“A few times during the race, I hit a few bumps, and I was like, ‘Oh no,’ ” McFadden said. “I just quickly looked at my tires and saw they were still rolling.”

She built her lead to two and a half minutes over the second-place finisher, Wakako Tsuchida of Japan, 15 miles into the race and simply kept building. Her neck was craned, her upper torso pressed virtually flat against her chair, like a diver frozen in the pike position.

McFadden was born with spina bifida, which left her paralyzed below her waist.

She grew up in an orphanage in St. Petersburg, Russia, walking on her hands for the first six years of her life, with no wheelchair, before Deborah McFadden, the director of the International Children’s Alliance, met and adopted her in 1994.

Ten years later, she was the youngest member of the United States track and field team at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games, her first international competition, as a rising star in wheelchair sprinting.

She took up marathon racing in 2009 and, in a whirlwind seven months, has come to dominate the sport at an unparalleled level.

“Slowly and surely, those races came,” McFadden said. “It’s just about the training and taking the time to really develop my muscles, develop the sprint aspect and develop the endurance and try to put those together.”

The men’s race was among five closely matched competitors: Japan’s Masazumi Soejima and Kota Hokinoue, Switzerland’s Marcel Hug, South Africa’s Ernst Van Dyk and Australia’s Kurt Fearnley, each of whom shared a piece of the lead at some point.

And all five finished within two seconds in a sprint to the finish line, with Hug, 27, edging out Van Dyk, the 2005 winner, in 1:40:14.

Hug, in his fourth appearance in the New York marathon, had never finished higher than third (2009).

He burst past the finish line with a scream, neck veins bulging. He said he owed his victory to how he timed his finish.

“I was confident, but I was also thinking about not to sprint too early,” Hug said. “Too early it’s not good. So there was good timing at the end.”

McFadden was anticipating a close race, too, like the sprint in which she edged Manuela Schär by two seconds in Chicago on Oct 13. McFadden did that with a displaced rib, which required four weeks to heal.

“I had a hard time putting my wheelchair in the car — simple activities that were difficult,” McFadden said.

The rib remained a concern on Sunday, as did New York’s hilly course — not the climbing, necessarily, but the coasting, which McFadden said was not her strongest suit. But a 17-miles-per-hour north wind actually worked in her favor.

“It slowed us down,” McFadden said. “I just kept pushing.”

She finished nine seconds off the course record, set in 2011 by Amanda McGrory, who finished fourth this year but nearly six minutes behind McFadden.

“It’s taken me a long time to get where I am,” McFadden said. “I didn’t just wake up, and this all happened.”

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source: The New York Times by Zach Schonbrun

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