BEIJING, China - The U.S. Paralympic cycling team had already gone above and beyond its expectations for the track portion of cycling so when Coach Craig Griffin (Colorado Springs, Colo.), projected four to five medals today, he had no idea he was being very conservative.
"The whole team did a wonderful job," said Griffin who joked it was best to under-promise and over-deliver. "I had a really good feeling the first day of practice on the course. We rode into the venue (when practicing) and they were rehearsing medal ceremonies and happened to be playing our National Anthem. It seemed like it was karma."
Team USA hauled in seven total medals on the first day of road competition, bringing their total to 11. That number is already one more than they had hoped for and there are still two days left before cycling concludes. The team began with a gold medal in their first race, and concluded in the same fashion.
The HC C Men's Time Trial was the first race of the day with a distance of 12.7km. Oz Sanchez (San Diego, Calif.) was the first to cross the finish line, winning the gold with a final posted time of 20:16.52. Sanchez finished 20 seconds before the 2nd place winner, but not far behind was Alejandro Albor (Elk Grove, Calif.) who posted a time of 20:59.49, good enough for the bronze.
In Sanchez's first Paralympic Games he commented, "If I had to put my money on this race, I wouldn't have, but nobody comes here to lose. I knew I had potential and I could maintain a pretty heavy tempo. I expected the podium but not the gold, it is very surreal."
As the afternoon session got started heat began to play a factor. Team USA was very conservative in their warm-up and started out at a slow pace, which paid off with more U.S. medals.
"We knew how to ride in the heat," commented Griffin. "At the first time check, we were usually behind, but then once the first hill was over we could really explode."
Anthony Zahn (Riverside, Calif.) was the first cyclist to take a medal in the afternoon race in the LC 4 Men's Time Trial. After competing in track cycling, Zahn had yet to score a medal. But he found success on the road and posted a final time of 41:08.21 and was awarded with the bronze.
"It felt pretty good. Track cycling is not my thing and it is really a warm-up for me," said Zahn. "Today was my event and so it was really nice after focusing on it for so many years."
The U.S. women then had their turn and they did not disappoint. First out was Jennifer Schuble (CP4/Homewood, Ala.) in the LC1/LC2/CP4 Women's Time Trial. Already winning a gold and silver in track cycling, Schuble continued her success, winning silver, once again behind Great Britain's Sarah Storey. Schuble posted a factored time of 38:38.94 to Storey's factored time of 37:16.65. Greta Neimanas (LC1/Colorado Springs, Colo.) also competed and just missed the bronze medal with her time of 40:26.09.
The Women's Time Trials continued, this time in the category of LC3/LC4/CP3. Fifty-two year old Barbara Buchan (LC1/Colorado Springs, Colo.) won her second gold in the Games. Not far behind was Allison Jones (LC3/Denver, Colo.) who, like Zahn, had gone through track cycling without a medal. This time was different and she won a silver with a time of 44:42.88.
"It was really hot but it was a great day," said a very pleased Jones. "This race was my specialty so if it was going to happen it was going to happen here."
The final time trial of the day was for the Women's Blind and Visually Impaired. The tandem team of Karissa Whitsell (B/VI/Eugene, Ore.) and Mackenzie Woodring (Pilot for Whitsell/Grand Rapids, Mich.) finally found their gold after a fourth place finish and a bronze medal in the track cycling. Their posted time of 36:14.87 was 44.11 seconds faster than the second place team.
Woodring, who has been piloting for Whitsell for only five months, commented "We felt pretty confident going into the trials, but everything is so unknown because we have been together for such a short while."
Whitsell agreed. "It was such an unknown. But we were confident and excited - the whole mixture of emotions. It was incredible and unreal that we won. We are not finished either - we race again on Sunday."
Others racing in the day included Matthew Updike (HCB/Denver, Colo.) who posted a time of 24:39.59 in the HC B Time Trial, followed by David Lee (HCB/Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Calif.) with a time of 25:04.99. Michael Farrell (CP4/Colorado Springs, Colo.) raced in the CP4 Men's Time Trial and finished with a time of 38:14.76. Ron Williams (LC2/Hoover, Ala.) competed in the LC 2 Men's Time Trial and finished in fifth place with a time of 36:12.84.
Road racing continues tomorrow (Saturday, September 13) with the Men's Individual Road Races. Williams, Farrell and Zahn will all compete, beginning at 13:30.