The USA’s Tatyana McFadden claimed her fifth straight victory at the Chicago Marathon women’s wheelchair race on Sunday (11 October), putting her one shy of an unprecedented third consecutive marathon grand slam. She also broke her own course record and earned one of four nominations to the US wheelchair marathon team for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
The Chicago Marathon wheelchair races served as the 2016 US Paralympic Team Trials for the marathon. Josh George, the top American man in Chicago, will join McFadden, as well as second-place US men’s finisher Aaron Pike and second-place US women’s finisher Chelsea McClammer.
On Sunday, McFadden finished the mostly flat but windy course in 1:41.10 seconds, breaking the course record she set in 2013 and finishing well clear of Switzerland’s second-place finisher Manuela Schar (1:41:56).
“It was absolutely a great day,” said McFadden, who raced with Schar until about half way through the race, when she used one of the few hills on the course to break away.
“I knew that I wanted to start off pretty fast. … At the halfway point I just hit that hill pretty hard ... she fell (back) at that point.”
McFadden – four-time Paralympian with 10 track and field medals – has yet to add a Paralympic marathon medal to her resume. She plans on competing in six events at Rio 2016, hoping to race in several track events — both sprint and middle distances — in addition to the marathon. McFadden was also on the USA’s Nordic skiing team at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, earning a silver medal.
The four-time Paralympic track and field medallist in London was 3 minutes and 40 seconds faster than her finish last year in the same marathon.
McClammer finished in 1:50:02 and in third place overall in the women’s division. McClammer and US and three-time Paralympic medallist Amanda McGrory had the same official finish time, but after reviewing the finish, officials named McClammer the winner of the spot for Rio. The third-place finish was particularly sweet for McClammer, who finished fourth last year in Chicago.
“It was pretty much a replay of last year,” McClammer said. “But I just had a little bit more than I did last year. …I had no idea I would qualify [Sunday] for the marathon.”
The men’s race was much closer. George, who won at Chicago in 2014, finished third overall in 1:30:48, but he was basically even with Switzerland’s second-place finisher Marcel Hug and just two seconds behind Australian winner Kurt Fearnley. The top 11 men all finished within 13 seconds of each other, with Pike posting a 1:30:54 time for seventh place overall.
As the men crossed a bridge near the finish, some of the chairs were touching, and George said it was very physical trying to push to the finish line.
“It was chaotic,” George said. “You’re kind of edging people out. ... Everyone’s just putting their head down. ... I kept punching Kurt’s front wheel, Kurt kept elbowing Aaron. I’m surprised none of us went down. It was a physical finish.”
Pike said he, too, plans to try to qualify for other events on the track but was relieved to get his ticket to Rio punched early.
“It’s kind of that monkey off the back,” Pike said.
McFadden, McClammer, George and Pike all train nearby at the University of Illinois in Champagne-Urbana, which has one of the oldest wheelchair sports programmes and now is a US Paralympic training site, allowing athletes to train there beyond their student years.
For complete results from the Chicago Marathon, visit the event website.
Top men’s wheelchair division finishers
1. Kurt Fearnley (AUS) 1:30.46
2. Marcel Hug (SUI) 1:30.48
3. Josh George (USA) 1:30.48
4. Ernst Van Dyk (RSA) 1:30.50
5. Gyudae Kim (KOR) 1:30.51
Top women’s wheelchair division finishers
1. Tatyana McFadden (USA) 1:41.10
2. Manuela Schar (SUI) 1:41.56
3. Chelsea McClammer (USA) 1:50.02
4. Amanda McGrory (USA) 1:50.02
5. Shirley Reilly (USA) 1:50.06