LONDON - The scene at Olympic Stadium on Tuesday night was the same as it has been throughout the London 2012 Paralympic Games as 80,000 strong made sure their voices were heard, cheering loudly and proudly for Paralympians from all nations.
Americans Michael Murray (Nashville, Tenn.), Austin Pruitt (Greenacres, Wash.) and Chris Hammer (Troy, Mich.) were three of those Paralympians tonight as they took to the track to experience what few ever do, racing in a final.
What’s more impressive and is that each of them are competing in their first Games, something that makes the experience even more impressive, and perhaps more memorable as well.
Competing in a Paralympic final inside Olympic Stadium truly is one of the greatest spectacles in sport and for Murray, the first American in a final tonight, stepping up to the start line for the final was like nothing he had ever experienced before.
“It’s crazy, it was so much fun,” said an exhausted Murray, who at just 21 years old, ran in a very deep field of runners in the 1500m (T20) final.
Although he looked strong in the first half of his race, he admittedly ran out of gas on the final two laps and finished in 11th place overall with a time of 4:18.78.
For Murray, his finish will not be what he remembers the most about this day but rather the scene as he made his way around the track.
“Running with the crowd cheering me on just made it completely worth it,” said Murray.
After running in the final, Murray is now more confident than ever and plans to be back in four years and with a Paralympic final now under his belt, he knows the sky is the limit for him and some of the sport’s biggest names agree.
“I know that Blake [Leeper] and Oscar [Pistorius] believe in me. Oscar told me to do my best and I will get there and that’s what I am trying to do,” said Murray.
Next to take his first crack at a Paralympic final was Austin Pruitt, who by making it to the final of the 200m (T34) had already met his Paralympic goal before the race even started.
“My goal was to make the finals….even making it here and making finals is the best experience,” Pruitt said.
Leading up to the race, Pruitt felt calm and had planned on treating the race like any other quarterfinal, semifinal or state championship race he had ever competed in. Once on the track, however, he realized that he was participating in the biggest race of his life and that the race was going to be even more special than he had imagined.
“You think it’s just another race but really there is a whole other level of pressure,” said the 18-year old.
Despite the pressure Pruitt held his own in the race and finished in fifth place overall with a time of 30.55. For Pruitt it was a solid performance and like Murray, his performance now has him hungry for more. Pruitt was the third youngest racer in the final and he knows he can only go up from here.
“I trained for four years for this 30 second race and there is no way to go but up from here, in Rio in four years I plan on being a force to be reckoned with,” smiled Pruitt.
The last American in a final this evening was distance runner Hammer, who was incredibly proud of reaching a final and could not believe the scene before his race or the noise level during it.
“It’s unbelievable, in the prelims earlier today I was able to tune out the noise but tonight I could hear everything,” said Hammer.
Hammer surprised everyone here at Olympic Stadium tonight as he jumped out to an early lead and although he was eventually overtaken he stayed strong throughout much of the race and came in ninth at 4:01.76.
Unlike Murray and Pruitt, Hammer will get another shot at making a final of these Games as he now sets his sights on the 800m (T46). After experiencing the atmosphere and excitement that surrounds a final first hand, Hammer was incredibly grateful and proud to have run for the U.S.
“I never thought I would have this opportunity…it was just incredible and the atmosphere is awesome, so I am thankful for the opportunity,” said Hammer.
Hammer will participate in the 800m (T46) prelims on Sept. 6.