By Mariya Abedi
The cycling track team was on fire in Rio, where the U.S. athletes won nine out of the 19 medals for the day.
It was the first day of competition for the sport, and both the men and women pedaled their way to the podium, earning one gold, five silver and three bronze medals in the time trials.
Shawn Morelli won her second gold medal in Rio, finishing the time trial C4 classification in 29:45.40. And Megan Fisher wasn’t far behind, grabbing the silver with a time of 30:15.72.
Samantha Bosco was out early in the morning on the road, working her way around the course in the time trial C5. The cyclist finished with a time of 29:01.58, winning her a bronze medal, her second medal in Rio.
“Making it to the Paralympics was the cake, medaling in the velodrome was the icing on the cake, and now I have my ice cream,” Bosco exclaimed.
But the women didn’t stop there. Alicia Dana won silver in the H1-2-3 trime trial and Jill Walsh won silver in the time trial T1-2.
The cycling men also had their share of medals for the day. Oz Sanchez won bronze in the time trial H4 with a time of 28:51.73; it’s his third medal in Rio. And four-time Paralympian Will Groulx took away the silver medal in the time trial H2. It was his first time representing Team USA on the road; Groulx has been part of the U.S. wheelchair rugby team the last three Paralympics.
“Cycling wasn’t something that I anticipated just jumping right into,” Groulx said. “I have a fantastic team around me that helped prepare me before the race and even during the race.”
Brian Sheridan also made the podium in the same event, winning the bronze with a time of 33:39.74. And Ryan Boyle won the silver in the men’s T1-2, finishing with a time of 26:49.47.
And over at Olympic Stadium, two American women made the podium in the discus throw F52. Rachael Morrison came out on top, setting a world record of 13.09. Cassie Mitchell was right behind her, winning the silver in her season best time of 12.87.
Alexa Halko won the silver in the women’s 400-meter T34 final with a time of 1:00.79.
In the men’s division, Roderick Townsend-Roberts beat out the Chinese team in the long jump T47, reaching 7.41 for the gold medal. He danced away, celebrating his win at the end of the competition.
“It was a really tough competition,” Townsend-Roberts said. “I took the lead in the very first round and I was like ‘this jump is not going to win the competition. Someone is going to jump further.’ I was just trying to get my legs round.”
And to round out the medal count, Team USA’s Scot Severn earned the silver in the shot put final F53, making his season best distance of 8.41.
Switching over to the tennis courts in Olympic Park, David Wagner played against South Africa’s Lucas Sithole to battle it out over the bronze medal in the quad singles. Wagner, coming off a disappointing defeat the night before in doubles, had trouble in the first set, which Sithole won.
The U.S. player won the second set and was down 5-2 in the third. But Wagner pushed harder, winning the final set 7-5.
“I never throw in the towel. I never give up. I never say it’s over,” Wagner said. “I fight to the end until the last point. I never assumed that it was not going to happen for me. I just knew that I was struggling early. I was physically exhausted, emotionally exhausted, just tired. Just flat out tired.”
And in women’s swimming, McKenzie Coan and Cortney Jordan come out on top, winning the gold and silver in the 400-meter freestyle S7. The two held on to each other at the podium as the anthem played.
Coan came in at a time of 5:05.77, winning her second gold in RIo.
“Oh, my goodness that was so much fun,” Coan said. “To be able to go one-two with Cortney, I am really emotional. She is my hero. This is the greatest moment of my career.”
And Tucker Dupress rounded out the swimming medals for the night with a bronze in the men’s 100-meter backstroke S12. He finished with a time of 1:01.04. It’s his fourth medal in his career, but he still has one more event to compete in, the 50-meter freestyle.
The U.S. Swimming team now has 27 medals.
And in archery, it was Andre Shelby who made the podium for Team USA in the men’s individual compound. Shelby had been working for this moment for four years.
“I had some doubts; more people had faith than I did,” Shelby explained. “I’m more of a realist. I think if it happens, it happens. I got people back home that have been cheering me the whole way.”
But it was a tough match for Matt Stutzman, who shot an eight on the final arrow, losing to Brazil’s Andrey Muniz de Castro by one point. Muniz de Castro won 142-141, eliminating the U.S. archer in the round of 16. Stutzman, the archer who was born without arms, said he’s looking ahead to his next goal.
“Next up is Tokyo 2020, and that’s what I have to start thinking about,” said the 2012 London Paralympic silver medalist. “Days like today, they happen.”
And making its Paralympic debut, canoeing took off at Lagoa Stadium, where three American women competed in the new sport. Kelly Allen, Ann Yoshida and Alana Nichols all competed in the KL 1-2-3 heats. Nichols and Allen both advance on the finals, but Yoshida was unable to finish the race after falling in the water during the semifinals.
“The conditions were a little bumpy, so I was just struggling to stay up,” Yoshida said. “There’s a fine line between balance and speed. If you go for speed, your balance can go off a little bit. And I went over the balance.”
And crowd-favorite wheelchair rugby started out with the U.S. team playing its first game against France in pool phase B. The U.S. took the lead early, but France fought hard to close the gap.
Team USA kept its defense up, forcing eight turnovers in the first half and leading 26-17. France hit the U.S. hard in the third quarter, but they were unable to overtake the U.S.
Chuck Aoki led with 16 points and ended the game with the U.S. winning 51-42.
“For an opening game with just the enormity of the Paralympics, to be on a stage where so many people are going to see you play is sometimes the biggest thing to overcome,” said Coach James Gumbert.
They’ll be facing Sweden next.
On the last day of competition in shooting, Team USA was unable to replicate its success from the day before. In the R6 mixed 50m rifle prone SH1, John Joss finished sixth in the qualification rounds. During the finals, he placed in fifth place with a score of 141.4, with China’s Cuiping Zhang nabbing the gold medal with a score of 206.8.
In other sports, the women’s sitting volleyball team won against Rwanda 3-0. They play Brazil in the semifinals.
The men’s goalball team played a tough game against Germany in the quarterfinals but came out on top with a final score of 7-6. They will take on Brazil in the semifinals. The women’s goalball team won as well, as they faced Canada in the quarterfinals. They shut out the northern neighbors with a score of 2-0 and play Turkey in the semifinals.
And Team USA won in the classification match in football 7-a-side with a score of 2-1 against Ireland. Seth Jahn made the first goal in the first half of the game with defense leaving Ireland scoreless. In the second half, Ireland managed to score a point early on, tied with the U.S. But Drew Bremer took a shot and scored, edging out Ireland.
And finally, in wheelchair basketball, the men’s team beat out the Netherlands 70-37 and head to the semifinals against Turkey.