Lex Gillette soars to long jump gold in Toronto

By Brianna Tammaro | Aug. 12, 2015, 10 p.m. (ET)

Lex Gillette wins his first medal of the 2015 Parapan American Games with gold in the men's long jump T11/T12 after leaping 6.73 meters.

TORONTO – Lex Gillette (Raleigh, North Carolina) led Team USA to a three-medal collection with gold in the men’s long jump T11/12 on Wednesday at track and field competition at the 2015 Parapan Am Games.

Gillette leapt to 6.73-meters, tying his world record mark set at the 2014 Desert Challenge Games while also claiming a Parapan Am Games record. With the IPC Athletics World Championships approaching in Doha, Qatar this October, three-time Paralympian Gillette is hoping to defend his gold from the 2013 worlds en route to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next summer.

“At this point, we only have two months left so it’s just a matter of fine tuning things,” Gillette said. “I think today was good because the windy conditions were difficult but we fought through it and got some really far marks out there.”

Austin Handley (Madison, South Dakota) pushed the pace for the first 1200 meters of the men’s 1500 T38 before Canada’s Mitchell Chase and Columbia’s Juan Carlos Medina Valencia overtook the top two spots. Handley’s kick in the final 100 was the difference as he edged Valencia for the win with a time of 4:36.57. The win marked Handley’s first medal at a major international competition.

“The wind was pretty intense and after leading for three laps, I just felt like I didn’t have much left at the end,” Handley said. “I could’ve ran a little stronger but overall I took second so I can’t complain.”

Erik Hightower (Phoenix, Arizona), the 2011 Parapan bronze medalist in the men’s 400m T54, won silver in the event tonight in a photo finish with gold medalist Alex Dupont of Canada and bronze medalist Sairo Moises Fernandez Lopez of Brazil. Hightower, a 2008 Paralympian, crossed the finish line just two-hundredths of a second from Lopez.

“It was a little closer than I wanted it to be,” Hightower said. “At the end, I wasn’t even sure if I got a silver, bronze or fourth place.

Hightower sought redemption for his seventh place finish in Monday’s 100 T54 race and will look to medal again at his third Parapan Ams in Thursday’s 800 event. 

“I just tried to get a good start, keep my speed up there and go for it all,” he said. “I wanted to come home with a medal and I’m happy with a silver.”

Competition continues from the CIBC Pan Am/Parapan Am Athletics Stadium on Thursday, August 13 with livestreaming available courtesy of the IPC. Visit TeamUSA.org/ParapanAm and follow @USParalympics on Twitter for up-to-the minute results, schedules and much more.