Daniel Romanchuk competes at the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13, 2019 in Chicago.
CHICAGO — Defending champion Daniel Romanchuk made it two victories in a row at the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, winning the men’s wheelchair race in 1 hour, 30 minutes, 26 seconds — and in doing so, earning a spot at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.
With the race also serving as the 2020 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for wheelchair marathon, Romanchuk joined top U.S. women’s finishers Tatyana McFadden and Susannah Scaroni in earning their Paralympic berths for Tokyo. All are members of the University of Illinois wheelchair racing team.
Up to two U.S. men and two U.S. women could qualify in Chicago, providing they also met both the minimum qualifying standard and the national team A standard sometime in 2019. The national team standards were 1:19:32 for men and 1:34:57 for women.
Romanchuk, who already held the required standards, made it simple by winning the men’s race.
McFadden and Scaroni, who also held the standards coming into the race, finished second and fourth, respectively, in the women’s race. Although American Amanda McGrory posted the same time, Scaroni earned the Paralympic berth because only she and McFadden had hit the A standard.
“It was a nice and dry day, a little cool but altogether a great morning,” said a smiling Romanchuk. “This last year has been — it’s really hard to describe. I thank God and family and friends and sponsors for the opportunities I’ve had and all the support they’ve provided.”
The win continues what has been a rapid rise for Romanchuk, who turned 21 in August. Already a 2016 Paralympian on the track, Romanchuk competed in five events in Rio, ranging from 100 to 5,000 meters. In the past year, however, he’s turned into a marathon superstar. He won his first major marathon last year at Chicago, and went on to win at New York City, Boston and London en route to becoming the first U.S. man to win a World Marathon Majors series title.
This race, with the Paralympic berth at stake, was special.
“It’s going take a while to sink in,” said a clearly emotional Romanchuk. “I think it’s every athlete’s dream to go to the Paralympic Games and represent their country. It’s a huge honor to be named to the team.”
Romanchuk, of Mount Airy, Maryland, and training partner Aaron Pike, of Park Rapids, Minnesota, battled side by side throughout the race until Romanchuk turned it up a notch at the 25K point and split from the pack for good until he crossed the line.
The women’s race was dominated by last year’s champion Manuela Schär of Switzerland, who crossed the line first in 1:41:08, more than four minutes ahead of the rest of the women.
Second place came down to a final sprint between the top three Americans who were fighting for two spots on the team. The battle was won by McFadden, who took second in 1:45:22. Close behind in a near photo finish were Scaroni and McGrory, who were credited with the same time of 1:45:29. McGrory was listed as third and Scaroni fourth.
“We’re so proud to be the first two named to the Tokyo team for track and field,” said McFadden, who is an eight-time Chicago Marathon winner. “We have a lot of work to do for next year, but we’re so proud to win it here in Chicago.”
McFadden, who is originally from Clarksville, Maryland, will be making her sixth trip to the Paralympic Games, where she has competed in track and field events ranging from 100 to the marathon, as well as Nordic skiing. A 17-time Paralympic medalist, McFadden has won seven gold medals on the track but is still seeking her first in the marathon.
“I’ve had a lot of ups and own since Rio, so I feel like I’m at the right spot where I need to be and will be in the perfect spot for Tokyo 2020,” she said.
Scaroni, of Tekoa, Washington, called the field in Chicago incredible.
“We had a small American group throughout the race,” she said. “We worked as hard as we could to secure these spots.”
This will be Scaroni’s third trip to the Paralympic Games. She placed seventh in the marathon in Rio after finishing eighth four years earlier in London.
Sunday’s race was run in nearly ideal conditions, on a flat and fast course with temperatures in the low 40s at the beginning, when the wheelchair athletes took off.
Eleven U.S. men and nine U.S. women vied to qualify for two Paralympic spots. It was the second time that the Chicago Marathon hosted the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials.
“So many of our best U.S. athletes are coached by Adam Bleakney at the University of Illinois, so hosting the trials in Chicago is like a hometown race for our future Paralympians,” said Chicago’s executive race director Carey Pinkowski.
Anne Stein is a Chicago-based features writer, NBA reporter and former managing editor of Inside Triathlon magazine. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.