“The IPC had a lot of talk about the Jonnie (Peacock) and Richard (Browne) T44 battle, which lived up to expectations, but I think Heinrich and I went one step better by being joint gold medallists.”
Nearly an hour and a half after crossing the finish line in the 100m T42 final at the 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships, Australia’s Scott Reardon was eating dinner at his hotel in Lyon, France, when he received a Twitter notification that turned his entire day around.
Athletics Australia had tweeted: “HOLD THE PHONE! This just in... After a change of decision by the photo finish judge, @ScottReardo will share the GOLD medal with Popow!”
The official race results had put Reardon alongside Popow on the top spot of the podium, allowing him to claim his first-ever share of a world title after a 12.68-second photo finish with Popow.
“It is such a rare thing to happen,” Reardon said. “There was no way to split us. If we both ran the same time, we both ran the same time. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event.
“For the next two years, we’ll be joint gold medallists, and we’re very, very happy with the result.”
Popow, the defending Paralympic and world champion in the event, fell behind early in the race but came back with gritted teeth to catch up in the final footsteps.
“It was a historic race,” Popow said. “I didn’t expect it to be so close. I knew it would be tough, but I didn’t know it would be that close.”
‘Everything kind of went blank’
Heading into Lyon, the Reardon-Popow rivalry had just begun to brew among fans and the media, and the fact that both amputee sprinters were able to live up to the hype made it one of the year’s most extraordinary races.
“Lyon was an interesting experience for me to say the least,” Reardon said. “I obviously went in there expecting to run fast, but I didn’t expect it to be such the emotional roller coaster that it turned out to be in the 100m final.”
With 2.5m headwinds at the start line, Reardon, who according to Popow is known for his quick starts, did not get off the blocks well and had to work extra hard over the first 10m.
“I couldn’t really see anyone, and I couldn’t really hear anything either. Everything kind of went blank,” Reardon said.
“Within about 20 or 30m, I could feel that I had a clear break on the rest of the field, and it just kept that way over the next 10 or 20m.
“I could then slowly hear Heinrich starting closing in on me. With all the prosthetic legs, you can hear someone when they’re coming.
“With about 20m to go, I had a little bit of an air leak into my socket, which kind of put me off game a little bit, and I kind of broke stride a little bit right at the moment where I didn’t want to.
“I didn’t have another stride in me, so I lunged across the line and looked across at Heinrich, and Heinrich looked across at me, and we both had no idea who had won. It seemed to be a lifetime until we knew.”
First Reardon’s name popped up in the top spot on the scoreboard, but then Popow’s name quickly jumped his, leaving everyone confused and Reardon with an “empty feeling” in the pit of his stomach. Within time, both found out they would share the gold.
Popow credited his final push at the end to his coach, who always tells him to imagine he’s running 110m so he gives it his all through the finish.
“If you saw my face in Lyon, you could tell I ran the race really tight,” Popow said.
Becoming a headline event
During the victory ceremony in Lyon, Popow motioned for Reardon to go to the middle of the podium since it was his first time winning a world title and a new experience for him.
“It was a little bit strange,” Popow chuckled of sharing the podium spot. “I was happy for him and he was happy for me, but we were a little bit confused about who would stand in the middle, so I told him to go there.”
But nobody watching in the stands or on their computer screens seemed to care who stood in the middle. The Paralympic Movement had just received a new headline event and everyone was entrenched in Popow and Reardon’s rivalry on the track.
“The Paralympic Movement is becoming bigger and bigger, and when you have races like this, it wakes up more people and brings more interest to the sport,” Popow said.
Reardon went further into detail with those same sentiments.
“The IPC had a lot of talk about the Jonnie (Peacock) and Richard (Browne) T44 battle, which lived up to expectations, but I think Heinrich and I went one step better by being joint gold medallists,” Reardon said.
“I think it’s good to be seen as one of the marquee events in the Paralympic Games, around the Movement and at the World Championships. I think for a very, very long time, the Paralympics have revolved around a few events – the 100m T44 being one of those – so it’s very nice for the general public to look at and have a genuine interest in what we’re doing and getting excited about seeing nice and close races.
“Keep a close eye on the T42 race, because I think it’s a very, very short period of time that the fastest person will be running 12 seconds. That barrier will get broken very, very soon, I believe.”