It was a year to remember, even though there is so much about 2020 that the world wants to forget.
The U.S. Para-cycling team athletes jumped into 2020 ready to go, taking aim at qualification for the highly anticipated Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 as well as the usual world cups, world championships and big road races.
And then… well… COVID-19 had different plans for all of us.
Although the competition schedule all but shut down last spring, U.S. cyclists stayed on their bikes and made the most of this year unlike any other. So, on the eve of 2021, it’s time to look back at some memorable on-the-bike moments for U.S. athletes. Think of it of a preview of big things to come in 2021.
Bring On The World (Championships)
It’s the news every Para-cyclist wanted to hear to start the year.
On Jan. 9, U.S. Paralympics Cycling named 27 athletes to the 2020 national team.
That group included 15 athletes who had previously been named to the U.S. team for the UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships to be held Jan. 30-Feb. 2 in Milton, Ontario. The competition, which took place at the Mattamy National Cycling Centre located in suburban Toronto, was also important for Tokyo, as it locked in quota spots for each nation.
The squad included five Paralympians, and five athletes were back to defend medals won at the 2019 world championships. That group of returning medalists included Joe Berenyi, Chris Murphy, Jason Kimball, Justin Widhalm and Samantha Bosco.
Bosco, for one, was ready to go.
Chris Murphy Helps Bring Home The Hardware
Team USA indeed made a big splash at the track world championships, winning 13 medals and setting records along the way.
Chris Murphy led the U.S. men. The 2016 Paralympian opened the competition with a silver medal in the kilo time trial and later set a world record in the 200-meter time trial. He closed things out by winning a bronze medal in the mixed team sprint along with Joe Berenyi and Jason Kimball.
Fellow American Jason Macom also came home with two medals, winning both on the final day when he finished second in the scratch race to propel him to second in the men’s omnium. It was an emotional experience for the Arkansas native.
“It’s so hard to explain, but seeing my flag raised — even though it wasn’t the top one — was such an honor,” he said. “To be standing next to Jozef Metelka (of Slovakia), who I learned about when I was laying in the hospital five years ago just dreaming of being on the podium with him, was even cooler. To be second with him is a huge honor, but I hope to switch places with him at the next race.
“After I learned I medaled, I called my wife. She’s my biggest supporter and my best friend in the world. We did this together. She has been there supporting me and this dream from day one. This is as much her result as it is mine.”
Aaron Keith, competing in his 10th world championships and fourth on the track, also won a bronze medal in the men’s omnium.
Clara Brown’s Very Good World Championships
The U.S. women made their mark in Milton, too, led by rising star Clara Brown. She opened with a silver medal in the 3K individual pursuit, then claimed her first world title by winning the 500-meter time trial. She closed out the competition with silver in the scratch and then another gold in the omnium.
Her medal haul pushed her career world championships medal totals to six. In addition to the four won in Milton, she had previously won two bronze medals at the 2019 road world championships. A native of Falmouth, Maine, Brown is aiming to make her first Team USA for Tokyo.
The serious haul earned her Best of February honors for the Team USA Awards presented by Dow, and love from the cycling community.
Sam Bosco was the other multi-medalist on the women’s side, taking silver in the omnium and bronze in the scratch race. Shawn Morelli added another bronze in the pursuit, while Stephanie Zundel and Paige Gray combined for one more in the tandem sprint.
Zundel called it “a dream come true.”
“I love that Paige and I can be a team and that we crushed it at our first international competition,” she said. “It takes a village, and everyone has been so helpful. Paige is the best pilot ever. We just started riding six months ago, so this is just incredible.”
The Rest Of The Year…
Everything was looking up for U.S. cyclists are a strong performance in Milton. Then? Yep, cue the sad trumpets: The coronavirus took out the rest of the global schedule, event by event, week by week. But that doesn’t mean American Para-cyclists put on comfy pants to Netflix binge their extra time away…
Time To Train And Train And Train
The unexpected downtime away from competitions and traveling actually proved to be a blessing for many U.S. athletes. Different Para-cyclists decided to get in the best shape ever, examine their equipment and technique, and focus hard on being their best for the Tokyo Games — now moved to 2021.
Social media showed off a lot of hard work:
Paralympic gold medalist Shawn Morelli was getting it done:
Today I challenged myself to an Epic Ride; well epic for me Thanks to all my sponsors who help make these happen. @LLUHealth @apexcoaching @maxxistires @JAKROOUSA @proj_echelon @vervecycling pic.twitter.com/wKxA40aaMU— Shawn Morelli (@GoRideURBike) September 1, 2020
Oksana Masters, the four-time Paralympian over three sports, including cycling, got creative:
No weights, no problem.— Team USA (@TeamUSA) November 24, 2020
Travis Gaertner, the two-time Paralympic wheelchair basketball gold medalist for Canada who now competes as a Para-cyclist for Team USA, was serious about the road time:
Two-time Paralympic silver medalist Jill Walsh was just like us — working out in her basement!
And six-time Paralympic medalist Oz Sanchez got his handcycle training done in mountains in California.
Keeping The Goal In Focus: Tokyo 2021
While the unexpected twists and turns of 2020 threw off everyone’s best-laid plans, Team USA Para-cyclists didn’t take their eyes off the new goal that is to come in 2021.
Justin Wildham made sure to remind the world what was coming:
And Masters too…
— Oksana Masters (@OksanaMasters) July 22, 2020