Wheelchair racer Chelsea McClammer was part of a triumphant trio of American Para athletes who achieved a clean sweep of the podium at Rio 2016 – not once, but twice.
Alongside Tatyana McFadden and Amanda McGrory, the three racers dominated the women’s 1,500m and 5,000m T54 races, claiming gold, silver and bronze between them. They also train together at the university of Illinois in the USA.
McClammer, who races in the T53 class, will be chasing her first world titles at London 2017 where she lines up against some of the best in the business once again – McFadden alone has 11 world gold medals to her name.
IPC: Did Rio change much for you given what you managed to achieve there – 400m T53 silver, 5,000m T54 silver and 1,500m T54 bronze?
McClammer: Definitely – before Rio I was just hoping to make my finals, I wasn’t expecting to medal three times while I was there. It’s definitely changed a lot for World Championships for me as I’m hoping and expecting a medal by the time I leave.
You were part of a US clean sweep with McFadden and McGrory in the 1,500m and 5,000m T54 at Rio 2016 – what was it like being part of that?
It was all pretty planned - we all train in Illinois together so we practise together sometimes twice a day, every day of the week. We know each other pretty well and how we race. We didn’t plan it before we got there but we were feeling good before we left and when we did get there we were like ‘You know, we should do this; this could be a lot of fun.’ I think it was after the prelim when we looked at each other’s times and realised maybe we should make a plan and work together.
There must be a point in the race when all three of you want to win – how do you approach that?
I think in the 5,000m we went to plan ‘C’ as none of them really worked out. We did want to still make it a competition between the three of us at the end, but we also talked about it before and we were pretty comfortable with just sweeping it. We felt that it didn’t matter which colour it was, we would be happy about it.
How close are you as a unit?
We are not like best friends outside of track practise – we have our own group of friends. If one us is feeling bad one day I don’t think we always tell each other that, especially on race day, because we don’t want that to be taken advantage of. We are close but I wouldn’t say that we would give up a big opportunity just because we are friends.
What is it like racing against Tatyana – one of the world’s best Para athletes?
I want to use the word ‘intimidating’ but it’s more beneficial than anything else. I wouldn’t change it because it’s absolutely an advantage to be training with her. But it’s also tough because I kind of compare myself to her and what she’s doing every day at practise.
Do you room together with your US teammates and track rivals?
In Rio I shared a suite with Susannah Scaroni and Tatyana, as well as a couple of throwers. I thought it would be more stressful than it was but since we know each other so well it was okay. We sometimes all get coffee or brunch together – we do hang out. We are big coffee drinkers on the team – Susannah gets up early every day to go make coffee and Tatyana is a little…not messy, but she likes to spread her things out! I’m very strict about my eight hours, even if I’m a little bit sleepy during the day I’d be like ‘Time to take a nap!’
Do you learn a lot from each other?
That’s actually why I came to Illinois – that and education. I knew that I would improve here and it’s awesome training together because we just push each other through every practise.
In the 400m and 800m T53 you will have to watch out for the likes of Australians Madison de Rozario and Angie Ballard, and the Chinese athlete Hongzhuan Zhou. What are their strengths?
They are all really strong. We were always nervous about China, but Maddie and Angie have really improved in the last couple of years. They work so well together and so does China. I’m going to be in the lead pack and I’m going to be the only girl from the US that’s going to do that, so I’m a little nervous. I’m definitely going to understand what Manuela (Schaer) goes through (as a solo racer working against groups of athletes from opposing nations).