U.S. 4x100: A 'Dream Team' of rivals
Team USA set a world record in the men's 4x100 (T42-46) at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France. The quartet will compete against each other at the national championships which start today.
Jerome Singleton has accomplished some big things in Paralympic track and field.
He beat Oscar Pistorius to earn the gold medal in the 100-meter at the 2011 International Paralympic Committee Athletics World Championships, he won a silver medal in the 100 at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing and he also was part of the gold-medal 4x100 team at those Games.
But July 27 of last year also ranks among Singleton’s best. On that day, Singleton, Richard Browne, Jarryd Wallace and Blake Leeper set a world record by running 40.73 in the T42-46 4x100 at the world championships in Lyon, France.
Almost a year later, Singleton said it’s one of the highlights of his career. It not only was a record, but it was a bit of redemption for the London 2012 Paralympic Games when the foursome finished third but lost their bronze medal because of a lane violation.
“Oh, man, that was a blessing,” Singleton said of the record at Lyon. “I got to be a part of a team with some of the best amputee sprinters to ever come through the game, really. When I talk about this era, this is the golden era. We have some of the best athletes, best amputees, ever competing.”
The four will reunite at the U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Championships, which start today and run through June 22 in San Mateo, California, but they won’t be running the relay. Singleton, Browne, Wallace and Leeper will run their individual sprints, but likely won’t go after another relay gold medal or record as a team until the world championships in 2015.
And they’re also definitely thinking about gold at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Browne said he and his running mates got together at a camp earlier this year and will get the chance to work as a team at other camps over the next two years before the 2015 world championships.
“We learned our lesson,” Browne said. “We’re putting a major emphasis on next year. We’ll get plenty of run-throughs before we get to the world championships next year.”
With the disappointment at London still on their minds, Browne says they’ve talked about getting a second chance at a Paralympic splash.
“Rio is the stage where we really want to show up,” he said. “Doing it at Lyon was great because it was the world championships, but the Olympics and Paralympics is what counts. Our major games are every four years.”
Progress in 2016
The four come into this year’s national championships having had varied success in 2014.
Browne, who is entered only in the 200-meter in San Mateo, broke the world record in the 200 in April at Mt. SAC, becoming the first runner in the T44 class to go under 22 seconds, at 21.9. He also won the 100-meter in the same meet at 10.99. But Browne suffered an injury running in Brazil after Mt. SAC and estimates he’ll be at about 80 percent at nationals.
Singleton expects to run just the 100 meters in nationals, but has been strong in both the 100 and 200 this year. He ran 11.17 at Mt. SAC, just behind Browne, after opening the year with an 11.3 at a meet in South Carolina in April, where he also ran 22.45 in the 200. But like Browne, Singleton goes into the nationals at less than full speed, having hurt his Achilles’ tendon in training.
Wallace, meanwhile, set his personal best in the 100, 11.13, at a meet in Georgia this year, a nice follow-up to the world record he set in the 200 meters at Lyon in 2013 when he ran 22.08. He plans to run both the 100 and 200 at San Mateo.
After hiring a coach (collegiate track athlete turned bobsledder Nic Taylor) going into this season and working to refine his training and techniques, Wallace is excited to see what he can do at nationals, though his main focus isn’t on places or times but his fundamentals and execution.
“Sometimes execution will get you first, sometimes execution will get you third or fourth,” he said. “So right now the place doesn’t matter. Right now the time doesn’t matter. All I want to do is continue to be a student of the sport and learn how to race properly.”
Leeper, coming off three individual silver medals in the T43 classification at the world championships last year — in the 100, 200 and 400 meters — won the 200 meters at the Desert Challenge in Arizona in May, running 22.15. He also finished second there in the T43 100 meters in 12.25.
He said he had some leg issues early in the year and the races at the Desert Challenge were really the first time he’d felt good. This year, he’s trying to focus on consistency after heavy competition years in 2011, ’12 and ’13.
Leeperis the only double below-the-knee amputee in the quartet; Browne, Singleton and Wallace are single-leg amputees in the T44 classification.
To Singleton, they make up a sort of Dream Team of Paralympic sprinting. They have five Paralympic and 15 world championships medals between them.
“You’re talking about medalists,” said Singleton, who’s been a part of U.S. teams since 2007. “We’ve all medaled at the Games.”
Singleton, who is hoping to make his third straight U.S. Paralympic Team in 2016, said the relay foursome ranks at the top of a corps of U.S. sprinters that has never been deeper or more talented.
“Now you may have six, seven, eight people, anybody can make it to the final, has a chance to get to the top of the podium,” he said. “So to run with those (other three) guys, I said, ‘Man, this is truly a blessing.’”
How Low Can They Go?
The four were first teamed for the London Games and had high hopes — but saw them dashed with the DQ. The team already had taken its victory lap before it learned the medal was lost.
“That was one of the hardest, saddest, most disappointing moments ever,” Leeper said.
But they fulfilled the potential they believed they had with the world-record time in Lyon. Leeper said they were a team on a mission.
“We trained, worked and ate together,” Leeper said. “We were truly a team.”
He said they became best friends.
Their performance earned them selection as the United States Olympic Committee’s Paralympic Team of the Year.
Wallace said he believes the four can run an even better time with more work and familiarity. Singleton has some numbers in mind.
“My goal for us,” he said, “and I think it’s all of ours’ goal, is to go sub-40, 39 and, hopefully by the Games, I’m hoping 38-high. That’s what I would love to do is go 38-high at the Games. We all have to be in the right position, we all have to be mentally, physically and emotionally ready to take it to that next level.”
Though they most often train in different corners of the country, they stay in touch.
“We’re really close friends,” Browne said. “I think that’s what makes the relay so successful. We don’t get a chance to practice together, but the fact that we keep in touch and we talk when we can … and when we have camps, we make sure to get together. I think that’s what makes the chemistry so strong.”
Singleton cautions, however, that keeping a relay team intact from one Paralympic Games to the next is tough. Injuries pop up. New runners emerge. At each Games, he said, “it gets tougher to make the team.”
“Every four years there’s somebody new comes along,” he said.
Browne, Leeper and Wallace made their first U.S. Paralympic Team in 2012.
Meanwhile, when they get on the track at the national championships in San Mateo, they’ll be out to beat each other.
“On the track, we are not teammates,” Browne said. “The only time we are teammates is in the four-by-one and off the track. But it’s every man for himself when it comes to the 100 and 200. … The competition at the U.S. nationals will be very competitive. It’s a very strong field.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for USParalympics.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.