By Orge Castellano and Mariya Abedi
RIO DE JANEIRO – It was out on the track at Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro where the day’s first three medals were won for Team USA.
Raymond Martin and Gianfranco Iannotta both medaled in the men’s 100-meter T52* wheelchair race. It only took seconds for Iannotta to push himself into the lead, winning the gold in 17.17 seconds. And right beside him was his training partner, Raymond Martin, who snagged the silver medal in 17.25 seconds.
“It’s always a challenge going against Ray,” Iannotta said of his teammate, who he’s been training with since they were both 10 years old. “He’s an incredible racer, very fast, very resilient. I knew it was going to be a challenge from the start.”
Martin won the gold in the London 2012 games but was thrilled Iannotta came out on top this time around.
“I feel so excited for him,” Martin said. “I have seen him come up through the ranks and I couldn’t be more pleased for him.”
And Kerry Morgan made her personal best time in women’s 400-meter T52* wheelchair race, winning the bronze medal. The 42-year-old had previously won bronze in the London 2012 games, but in the 100-meter and 200-meter races.
During the evening session, 16-year-old Alexa Halko came away with the bronze in the women’s 100-meter T34* competition. The first-time Paralympian was unable to take on Great Britain’s Hannah Cockroft and Kare Adenegan, who came in first and second.
And U.S. Swimming continued to dominate in the pool, winning four gold medals and two silver medals.
Swimmers Elizabeth Marks, Jessica Long and Mallory Weggemann competed in three lanes next to one another in the 100-meter breaststroke SB7* category. But it was Marks and Long who kept their stride going till the very end; Marks set a new world record and came in first with a time of 1:28.13 seconds. But it wasn’t until the very end that she realized she was in the lead.
“I can’t see when I am swimming,” Marks said. “About 25 meters in, I have no idea where anybody else is; as long as I feel pressure on my hands, I know it is going well.”
Teammate Jessica Long trailed Marks by 4.81 seconds, winning the silver medal. Long had won the gold in this event four years ago in London, but said she’s glad another U.S. swimmer came in first.
“I’m really happy; I’m really excited,” said a breathless Long after the race. “To win the silver and see my teammate right next to me win the gold is amazing.”
And the women kept bringing on the wins. It was another gold for the elite para-swimmer from Maryland, Becca Meyers. She attempted the 200-meter individual medley in the SM13* category, striking another outstanding victory with a time of 2:24:66 seconds.
“That was my goal,” Meyers said confidently. “I’m glad I finished first. A lot of hard work went into that race, so I’m really pleased with the outcome.”
The second Meyers entered the stadium, the excitement and the emotion of the crowds grew exponentially. Her parents were frantically cheering her on from the stands, with a big poster board picture of her daughter. They high-fived every celebration throughout the night, quickly making new Brazilians friends.
But Meyers isn’t done just yet. She can still take home another medal this Monday in the women’s 400-meter freestyle S13* category.
Over in men’s swimming, Roy Perkins claimed gold in the 50-meter butterfly S5* category, surpassing China’s Shiwei He as well as Daniel Dias, Brazil’s local powerhouse. Dias has been continuously hitting the podium in the last few days, but this time, he took home a bronze medal.
“I have worked for four years to be able to beat him. I knew during those years that to do it in front of his home audience would be a big deal,” Perkins said about beating Dias. “The whole building was shaking; I think the water was probably shaking,” he said.
And in the men’s 400-meter freestyle S11* category, U.S. veteran Bradley Snyder, took home his second medal this year, winning gold with a 12.18 second lead. Teammate Tharon Drake came in second.
Snyder lost his eyesight after stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED) while serving in the US Navy in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2011. It’s not the first time he’s experienced the feeling of a gold medal win. In the 2012 London Paralympics, the swimmer won two gold medals and one silver medal.
And in judo, Team USA medaled in both the women’s division and men’s division. In the men´s 90-kg event, Dartanyan Crockett from Cleveland crushed Great Britain’s medal-hopeful and 2012 Paralympic silver medalist Samuel Ingram in the final round, winning with a difference of two yukos. Crockett took home the bronze.
On the women’s side, Cristella Garcia from Santa Fe, New Mexico, overtook Brazil’s favorite Silva de Almeida Deanne in the 70-kg B1* division. Garcia won the bronze, her first medal in the Paralympic Games.
“I’m feeling pretty amazing right now; I don´t think there’s a cooler feeling as getting a medal,” said the judoka.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Wheelchair Tennis team is setting a strong foundation in Rio; the women’s seed played excellent rounds all around.
The U.S. women got off to a good start with Dana Mathewson having full control of the ball the entirely match and serving strongly against Great Britain’s Louis Hunt. Mathewson won 6-1, 6-4 with a fantastic combination of speed and spin.
Shelby Baron fought the court with solid ground strokes finishing over Italy’s Lauro Marianna with an overall set score 6-1, 6-4.
Emmy Kaiser was not able to battle past Famin Charlotte from France and lost 2-6, 6-4, 6-1.
And U.S.’s Kaitlyn Verfuerth tried to keep up with the strong and fast service served by Netherland’s Jiske Giffioen. But in the end, Giffioen won the match with 6-1, 6-1 points.
Team USA took on Iran in three sports today, winning sitting volleyball (3-0) and wheelchair basketball (93-44). But the U.S. lost to them in football 7-a-side (0-2).
And in table tennis, the U.S. men’s team tried to redeem themselves after Friday’s disappointing loss against China. Tahl Leibovitz beat both Hungary (3-0) and France (3-2) but then lost to Belgium’s Devos Laurens in the quarterfinals.
Saturday also made Paralympic history: the first triathlon was held.
Team USA’s Christopher Hammer (PT4 classification) came in fourth with a time of 1:03:14 seconds, about 37 seconds short of the bronze. The 11 athletes started with a 0.75-kilometer swim and then transitioned into the bike portion. Hammer was in seventh place at the end of the biking segment, but he was able to push ahead by the end of the 5-kilometer run.
Mark Barr, who has competed in swimming at previous Paralympics, also placed fourth in triathlon, but in the PT2 classification. Barr was in the lead after the swimming segment and maintained a fifth position until the final leg of the run, when he passed by France’s Stephane Bahier and finished in 1:12:51 seconds. The women’s triathlon takes place on Sunday.