LONDON - The men’s 100 meter (T44) final of the London 2012 Paralympics Games had been dubbed the “Race of the Games”. Tonight it lived up to the hype, as hometown favorite and current world record holder Jonnie Peacock of Great Britain squeaked out the victory over 21-year-old American Richard Browne (Jackson, Miss.).
Peacock is now the world’s fastest amputee. He set the Paralympic record, finishing in 10.90 but Browne was close behind with a personal best time of 11.03. South Africa’s Arnu Fourie was third at 11.08. Americans Blake Leeper (11.21) and Jerome Singleton (11.25) were fifth and sixth.
The event has been one of the most anticipated events of these Games, not surprising considering the lineup which featured a who’s who of Paralympic superstars, any of whom could have medaled in the event.
Racing alongside tonight’s three 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 week.
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 tonight but finished with a time of 11.21.
“It’s hard when you get held and held and held (by the starter), but it is what it is,” said Leeper. He holds the world record in the T43 class with Pistorius, who placed fourth with a season’s best 11.17.
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.”
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.
For Browne, 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. “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”.
After a surprising disqualification in Wednesday’s 4x100m relay, collecting his first Paralympic medal in the 100m final was redemption in his eyes.
“We had a disappointing loss in the disqualification in the 4x100 race yesterday so to be able to represent and to get this medal for not only myself but for my other teammates is amazing,” said Browne.
Although Browne’s track schedule at these Games is now complete he still has a chance at one more medal as he will still compete in the high jump (F46). Leeper, the bronze medalist in the 200m, has the 400 left on his program while Singleton’s competition is over.
Singleton came into the race as the defending world champion in the event. At the Beijing Games, he finished second, narrowly missing the gold medal.
“I never want to finish off the podium,” Singleton said. “But I can stand here knowing that since Beijing, I held that title of the world’s fastest amputee. I’m going to go back to the drawing board and figure out how I can get that title back for Team USA.”