RIO DE JANEIRO — Two of the youngest stars shined brightest for Team USA on Monday evening as 17-year-old Hunter Woodhall (Syracuse, Utah) and 18-year-old Grace Norman (Jamestown, Ohio) stood on the podium for the first time at Olympic Stadium.
Less than 36 hours after winning gold in the Paralympic debut of the triathlon, Norman ran a personal best in the women’s 400-meter T44, crossing the finish line in 1:01.83 to capture her second medal in two sports at her first Paralympic Games.
“To make history yesterday with the first paratriathlon gold medal for the U.S. and raising that flag, especially on 9/11, remembering and being thankful for my freedom was just amazing,” Norman said. “Then tonight, to win bronze in the 400-meter was just incredible. I’m just so thankful to represent my country on a big stage like this.”
The victory celebration was sweet and short for Norman who quickly made the transition from triathlon to track, returning to the athlete village to recover and prepare for another race. Norman came out of lane one and powered through in the final stretch to secure third behind Germany’s Irmgard Bensusan in second and champion Amelie-Marie leFur of France, who set a world record. Team USA’s Liz Willis (Sterling, Kansas) and Jessica Heims (Swisher, Iowa) finished sixth and seventh, respectively, in their first Paralympic appearance.
“Going into it, I just wanted to see how it would go and would be happy no matter the outcome, as long as I did my best,” she said. “I did that today and the outcome was a bronze medal, so I’m super pleased with that.”
Woodhall also pulled double duty, running two races in one session with the men’s 4x100 relay as the first event of the evening program, followed by the men’s 200 T44 later on. He showed no signs of fatigue as he stormed to silver with a personal best time of 21.50 seconds. His U.S. teammates A.J. Digby (Tontogany, Ohio) took fifth in a personal best while David Prince (Brandon, Florida) finished sixth with a Paralympic record.
“It’s so hard to put into words,” Woodhall said. “It’s the most amazing experience ever. To have this kind of support back home and helping me get through these hard times is really amazing. To have this country on my chest and be able to represent that makes it worthwhile.”
The youngest in the field, Woodhall first established himself as a name to remember at the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships where he came away with two medals, including a bronze in this event. He will compete again on Wednesday in the 400 T44.
“I’m only 17 and have lots of years to come, but to be able to come out here and do that is amazing,” he said. “It’s an upgrade from bronze from worlds and the times are so much faster, so much more competitive. Good job to all of my competitors because we put on a show out there tonight.”
The evening began in dramatic fashion with the men’s 4x100 relay T42-47. The U.S. men’s team of Jarryd Wallace (Athens, Georgia), Jerome Singleton (Irmo, South Carolina), Woodhall and Jaquvis Hart (Bossier City, Louisiana) posted a world record and winning time of 40.61 before later being disqualified for a handoff outside of the exchange zone on the second exchange between Wallace and Hart.
Team USA put in a series of top performances in final events today, including fifth place finishes by Ayden Jent (Indianapolis, Indiana) in the men’s 200 T35 and four-time Paralympian Jeff Skiba (Sammamish, Washington) in the men’s high jump T44.
The sixth day of competition begins tomorrow featuring several U.S. athletes in finals, including fellow paratriathlon PT2 gold medalist Allysa Seely (Glendale, Arizona) in the women’s 200 T36, Ray Martin (Jersey City, New Jersey) and Gianfranco Iannotta (Garfield, New Jersey) in the men’s 400 T52, Mikey Brannigan (Northport, New York) in the men’s 1500 T20 and Tatyana McFadden (Clarksville, Maryland), Amanda McGrory (Savoy, Illinois) and Chelsea McClammer (Richland, Washington) in the women’s 1500 T54.