Weggemann wins gold with Paralympic record

By Lindsay Wyskowski | Sept. 02, 2012, 5:53 p.m. (ET)

Mallory Weggemann
Competing in the S8 classification for the first time, Mallory Weggemann set a new Paralympic record en route to gold.

LONDON – Mallory Weggemann led the U.S. efforts in the pool Sunday night with her first gold medal of the 2012 London Paralympic Games. In all, the Americans picked up four more medals with Kelley Becherer, Rudy Garcia-Tolson and Rebecca Anne Meyers also finishing on the podium today.

Team USA's total medal count in swimming is now 16, the most of any sport. 

Weggemann, who had been qualified as an S7 previously, was reclassified as an S8 athlete by the International Paralympic Committee this week, a move that left her unsure of her competition. 

“It’s been really tough,” she said. “I’ll be honest, the process and just being put through that so last minute and right before competition was really hard.”

With a time of 31.13, Weggemann set a new Paralympic record in the 50 meter freestyle (S8) and also broke the American record. Jessica Long, who won gold in each of her three previous finals in London, finished fifth in the event.

After the race, Weggemann cited her mental toughness as a factor in her win. “If you believe you can do it, I think you can do it,” she said. “It was tough competition, and I knew I had a tough race, but I gave it my all and that was enough tonight.”

Weggemann still has a few events on her schedule, and she is not letting the issue of reclassification hold her back. “To be able to go out there and still win a gold despite what happened … shows that we can all overcome the adversity, and that no matter what happens we still have the ability to get up and move forward and chase our dreams.”

One thing is for certain for Weggemann – the gold medal is a dream realized.

“I’ve been dreaming of being on that podium and seeing our flag raise and hearing the anthem for four and a half years,” she said.

Becherer was also crowned champion Sunday, winning a tightly-contested showdown in the 100m freestyle (S13). The 22-year-old finished with a time 59:56 to edge out Canadian Valerie Grand-Maison and claim the gold. Meyers, who was not expecting a medal in the race, finished third. “It feels good to do it with a teammate,” Becherer said of her win.

A three-time Paralympian, Becherer went into this event with the fastest qualifying time from the morning preliminary, but knew what she was up against. “I’ve been racing a lot of these girls for a long time so I kind of know what they can do. I knew it was going to be a tough race.”

This gold medal comes on the tails of the gold Becherer won last night in the 50m freestyle. “This is only my third gold medal,” she said. “All the training goes into it and you just … I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m speechless.”

Garcia-Tolson claimed the silver medal in the men’s 200m IM, finishing with a personal best 2:33.94. Though his time was an American record and nearly two seconds faster than the morning session, where he set the world record, Garcia-Tolson finished behind Yevheniy Bohodayko of the Ukraine, who won and broke the world record with a time of 2:33.13.

“The Ukrainian had a great race, I wasn’t expecting him to come up and do as well as he did, but hats off to him,” said Garcia-Tolson after the race. He considers the 200m IM his main event, and he already has goals for the race in the future. “It’s just an amazing experience and it lit a fire under me to train harder now – I want to get that back.”

Still to come for Garcia-Tolson over the course of these Games is the 100m backstroke and the 100m dash on the track.

Finishing fourth in their respective events on Sunday were Cortney Jordan in the 200m IM (SM7) and Tucker Dupree in the 100m butterfly (S12). Lantz Lamback was seventh in the 200m IM (SM7).

Bradley Snyder, who has won gold and silver over the past two days, swam in the 100m backstroke (S11) and finished eighth. After his race he admitted that backstroke is not his strongest stroke. “Backstroke, the way I swim, I feel like I’m always leading with my head,” he explained. “That exposure kind of gives me a little bit of trepidation and also I’m not very good at getting out of the lane lines.”

Even though eighth is not the position he was aiming for, he said he’s not too upset about how his race went or where he finished. “This was really just to stay in the racing mentality and see what could stick. Prior to the race – it’s a close heat – I thought there might be a chance to get back to that podium but it didn’t come through. Now it’s time to get past that one and start focusing on my other races.”

Team USA has much to look forward to, as the action continues at the Aquatic Center on Monday morning.