Highlighted by the London 2012 Paralympic Games, called the greatest Games ever by International Paralympic Committee President Sir Philip Craven, 2012 was a thrilling year for the Paralympic Movement in the United States and around the globe. Records were broken and legacies were made. From Dec. 20-31, USParalympics.org will unveil the Top 12 moments of 2012 for U.S. Paralympics in chronological order.
The men’s 100 meter (T44) final of the London 2012 Paralympics Games had been dubbed the “Race of the Games”. It lived up to the hype, as hometown favorite Jonnie Peacock of Great Britain squeaked out the victory over 21-year-old Richard Browne, an relatively unknown sprinter from Jackson, Miss.
Peacock, who set the world record in July, set the Paralympic record in London, finishing in 10.90. Browne was close behind with a personal best time of 11.03. South Africa’s Arnu Fourie was third at 11.08.
The event had been one of the most anticipated events of the Games, not surprising considering the lineup which featured a who’s who of Paralympic superstars, any of whom could have medaled in the event. But Browne, making his international debut, was not expected to be a factor.
Racing alongside the three eventual medalists were defending Paralympic champion in the men’s 100 Oscar Pistorius, also the first amputee to run in the Olympic Games, and Brazil’s Alan Fonteles Cardoso Oliveira, who already upset Pistorius by winning the 200m (T44) title earlier in the Games.
In July, American Blake Leeper tied the men’s 100m (T43) world record held by Pistorius, securing his place among the podium favorites. And there was reigning world champion Jerome Singleton, the American billed as “the fastest amputee” in the years before the Games.
A mere two years after his amputation, Browne was standing with the fastest Paralympic field ever.
Given the pool of talent, the race had all the makings of a historic event and it most certainly was.
The race was full of drama right from the start as Brazil’s Oliveira false started on the initial start, a move that threw some of the racers off, including Leeper who was favored to medal.
“It’s hard when you get held and held and held (by the starter), but it is what it is,” said Leeper.
Racers were also jilted by deafening chants for Peacock.
But for Browne, it was exactly what he needed to prevail for the podium.
"There were 80,000 people, all screaming ’Peacock!’ in unison,” Browne remembered. “It actually calmed me down, because I realized that I had no pressure—he did."
Once resetting, there was no turning back for the sprinters.
The race was quick from the start but soon thereafter became a two-person race as Peacock and Browne pulled away from the field just after the halfway point, something Browne noticed right away and used as fuel to push him through to the finish.
“I knew Jonnie would get out,” said Browne, who prior to tonight had already raced Peacock four other times this year. “Once I saw that I was still in second with 40 meters to go I just told myself to stay strong and hold my form.”
Browne did in fact hold his form as he closed in on Peacock who held a slight lead throughout the race. Despite this huge effort from Browne however, Peacock was able to keep the American at bay after realizing how close Browne was to overtaking him.
“My drive phase is probably the best it’s ever been in the race,” said Peacock, who holds the world record in the T44 class. “At about 60 meters I started to think ‘Oh crap, I’m in the lead’. I felt the guys closing in and I felt I lost a bit of top speed.”
Richard Browne celebrates on the podium at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
As soon as Peacock and Browne crossed the line, the stadium exploded with noise, reaching decibel levels not yet heard at these Games. Now Peacock has the title of the world’s fastest amputee.
Americans Leeper (11.21) and Singleton (11.25) were fifth and sixth.
For Browne, who went from an unknown to a superstar in 11.03, the noise, atmosphere and realization that he had just won a Paralympic silver medal in the biggest race of his life was surreal.
“This was the biggest crowd I have ever seen in my life and they are all out here to support us, it’s just so amazing,” said a teary-eyed Browne after the race. “I don’t know how to explain it right now because I am getting emotional as it is starting to set in…to represent the United States of America on the podium tonight is absolutely amazing”.
Browne almost did not make the trip to London because his uncle Gary was fatally stabbed the day before he boarded his plane. To honor his family, Browne raced with a sock covered in skull and crossbone motif and ringed in bright pink on his left leg, a rather bold fashion statement pulled all the way up to his knee.
“There were nine skulls for my nine brothers and sisters, ‘cause they’re my world,” he said. “And the pink was to honor my grandmother who was fighting cancer.”
Browne’s grandmother Jean lost her battle the day after Browne returned home to Mississippi.
At a time when others may have had a heavy heart, Browne soared.
Jamie M. Blanchard and Brian Hightower contributed to this report.