Friday was another golden night for Team USA at the Olympic Stadium track, as 10 U.S. Paralympians competed in five finals and qualifying events. The team won two titles on Day 9 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Starting off a string of United States victories was 18-year-old Raymond Martin who won his third gold medal of the Games in the men’s 400 – T52 race. Martin, who is competing in his first Paralympic Games, took first in a race that featured four Paralympians who are at least twice his age, including world record holder and eventual silver medalist Tomoya Ito of Japan.
Martin admitted that he has far exceeded his own expectations for London with one event still to come.
“I came in here just hoping to get some Paralympic experience, maybe get on the podium one time, and end up getting on top of the podium three times,” Martin said.
He took a victory lap around the stadium, proudly waving an American flag. “I’ve had a few issues trying to find a flag,” he said. “But I finally found one [in the crowd] and got to do my victory lap. I’m really proud because I’m proud to race for my country.”
Martin has a quick turnaround with a preliminary for his final event, the Men's 200m - T52, on Saturday morning at 10:42 a.m. “I need to get a lot of rest. I’m just going to go back to the village, hop in the bed, get a good night’s sleep, and get ready for the prelim tomorrow morning.”
Not to be outshined by Martin, Tatyana McFadden also won her third gold medal of the Games in the women’s 1500m - T54. Three-time U.S. Paralympian Shirley Reilly came in third in that race, winning bronze, to bring her medal total to two for the Games (silver in the women’s 5000m – T54).
McFadden, who trains with Martin, was able to see him win his race as she was preparing for her own. “I actually saw his race in the call room because I was staging and that was really cool to see Raymond win,” she said. “We all definitely support each other out here.”
Martin got to do her fair share of supporting later on in the night. Just moments before Blake Leeper’s 400m – T44 semifinal, McFadden was on the medal stand to accept her third gold medal in three events.
Hearing the Star-Spangled Banner right before he raced turned out to be a surreal moment for Leeper, who has a bronze medal from the 200m (T44).
“It amped me up,” he said. “Tatyana is an amazing athlete and hearing the national anthem right before you race – that’s all I needed. I want to thank her for that.”
Leeper easily qualified for the final and set an Americans regional record with a time of 50.63.
When told about Blake’s reaction to her ceremony, McFadden was not surprised.
“It’s a song that you can’t hear enough,” she said. “I actually heard Raymond [Martin’s] before I raced yesterday and it does get you pumped and it does get you really excited.”
The second semifinal for the 400m –T44 featured the headline grabbing South African Oscar Pistorius, first amputee to compete in the Olympic Games, and Americans David Prince and Jarryd Wallace. Pistorius had no trouble winning the semi but Prince, in third, automatically qualified as well.
Wallace on the other hand, grabbed the final spot for Saturday night’s final by being the fastest sprinter outside of the Top 3 in each semifinal.
“It was only my second time running the 400m in my life as an amputee so to be able to get a [personal record] by two seconds and qualify for the final in the biggest Games ever is unbelievable,” Wallace said.
The final featuring Wallace, Prince, and Leeper will take place tomorrow night at 9:57 p.m. in London. Other finals include men's high jump - F46, with defending champion Jeff Skiba and Richard Browne, who won a surprise silver medal in Thursday’s 100m, and the women's 400m - T53 with Reilly and U.S. racers Jessica Galli and Anjali Forber-Pratt.