BEIJING, China - Women's arms only single sculler Laura Schwanger (Harrisburg, Pa.) is one step closer to the medal stand after winning the second of two heats Tuesday to advance directly to Thursday's final. Heats in all four boat classes were contested on the opening day of competition at Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China.
Schwanger was second off the starting line, but gained water on Ukraine's Svitlana Kupriianova by the halfway point to take the lead. The U.S. sculler continued to pull away in the final stretch to win the race by nearly ten seconds, clocking a 6:01.78. China's Jinhong Zhang finished second in a 6:11.02, followed by Ukraine in third with a 6:13.49 and Brazil in fourth with a 6:14.76. Italy and Portugal followed in fifth and sixth.
"It was a pretty good race and I'm happy with the result," said Schwanger. "There was tough competition on either side of me, but I followed the race plan and it worked out. Hopefully I can do it again in the final."
A four-time Paralympic track and field athlete, Schwanger won four gold medals in 1988, three silver medals and a bronze medal in 1992 and three silver medals in 1996. She will face heat winner Helene Raynsford of Great Britain in the final, along with the top two finishers of tomorrow's repechages.
In the men's arms only single sculls, five-time adaptive national team member Ron Harvey (Long Beach, Calif.) finished fourth in the first of two heats. Ukraine's Oleksandr Petrenko led the race from wire-to-wire, clocking a 5:17.36 for the win. China crossed second in a 5:33.06, with Italy in a 5:44.14 for third. Harvey clocked a 5:47.55 and will now race Brazil, France, China and Canada in tomorrow's repechage for one of two spots in the final.
"I was able to stay with China in the beginning, but he pulled away," said Harvey. "I have a pretty good chance at advancing tomorrow if I race well."
Angela Madsen (Long Beach, Calif.) and Scott Brown (Collingdale, Pa.) finished fourth in the first of two heats of the mixed trunk and arms double sculls. The duo rowed even with the Ukrainian crew through the first 250 meters, but fell back in the second half of the race to finish in a 4:29.69. China won in a 4:14.67, with Australia crossing second in a 4:18.66. Ukraine clocked a 4:27.50 for third.
"Tomorrow we are going to try to pick it up and have a better race," said Brown. "We will need to remain focused and stay positive."
Madsen and Brown finished fifth at last year's world championships, breaking a four-year winning streak. With the top two crews advancing to the final, they will face Australia and Canada again in tomorrow's repechage, along with crews from Great Britain and Israel.
In the legs, trunk and arms four with coxswain, Simona Chin (Houston, Texas), Jamie Dean (Pickerington, Ohio), Jesse Karmazin (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.), Tracey Tackett (Phoenixville, Pa.) and Emma Preuschl (Indianapolis, Ind.) finished third in the first of two heats. The U.S. crew clocked a 3:37.57, finishing less than a second behind Great Britain's 3:36.81. Italy won the race in a 3:34.59. Canada crossed fourth in a 3:43.72, with Russia and Denmark fifth and sixth, respectively. The U.S. crew will take on Israel, Republic of South Africa, Germany and Russia in tomorrow's repechage for a chance in the final. Dean, Karmazin and Tackett finished fifth in the event at the 2007 FISA World Rowing Championships.
This marks the first year that rowing will be a part of the Paralympic Games. The International Rowing Federation (FISA) introduced adaptive rowing on a world championship level at its 2002 World Rowing Championships in Seville, Spain.