By Mariya Abedi
After 10 days full of competition and more than 112 medals, Team USA looked to close out this year’s Paralympic Games with wins in two remaining sports: wheelchair rugby and the marathon. And the U.S. athletes sure did not disappoint.
It was a close game in the wheelchair rugby finals, which was one of two sports televised on NBC. With all eyes on them, the U.S. team fought till the final second in the gold medal against Australia. The two teams stayed neck in neck throughout the four quarters, but in the end, Team USA was edged out by the Aussies by 59-58 in double overtime.
At half, the U.S. trailed only by one point, with starter Chuck Aoki scoring 9 of the 25 points. The team continued its aggressive play on the court, matching each of their opponent’s goal. But Australia’s defense kept the U.S. from taking the lead.
With just two seconds left in the last quarter, the U.S. tied up the game after Aoki passed the ball to Josh Brewer, leading the game into its first overtime at 49 points.
The two teams continued scoring back and forth, ending the first overtime with 54 points each. At the end of the second overtime, Australia clinched gold with the U.S. unable to score a goal in the last 15 seconds.
“It was such a great game, both sides. We fought extremely well,” said Team USA’s Jason Regier. “I’m surprised we didn’t go a couple more overtimes.”
The U.S. team has made the podium in wheelchair rugby ever since the sport was introduced in 2000 at the Paralympic Games. They had won bronze at the 2012 London Games, pushing the team harder to work towards gold.
“You sacrifice four years to represent your country and get here, and we did everything we could out there. Hats off to Australia,” Reigier said.
Meanwhile, at a picturesque Fort Copacabana, the mercury continued to rise.
Powerhouse Tatyana McFadden competed in her final event, aiming to add another gold to her collection. The women’s wheelchair marathon T54 took off with 14 athletes, including five Americans.
It was a fight till the very end for McFadden, as she finished at the same exact time as China’s Jing Ma. Both crossed the finish line at 1:38:44, but a photo finish showed Ma’s wheel come in first, winning by hair. McFadden took home the silver, the three-time Paralympian’s sixth medal in Rio.
“I knew the races were going to be tough.” McFadden said. “It’s amazing to be on the podium six times. Some people weren’t on the podium at all.”
And teammate Amanda McGrory came in third, winning the bronze with a time of 1:38:45.
“It was definitely a technical course. The flatness of it made it very fast but it also made it very difficult to break away,” McGrory explained. “The laps are kind of cool as well because you know what’s coming up.”
In the men’s marathon T54, Aaron Pike placed 10th with a time of 1:30.13, but Joshua George and James Senbeta were unable to finish.
But all the athletes will get their chance to prove themselves again when the Paralympics head to Tokyo in 2020.
“I have lots of homework. I know what I need to do next time. Hopefully a little stronger and smarter. I’m ready for Tokyo,” McFadden said.
Feature picture by Thomas Lovelock for IOS/IOC.