Chinese wheelchair racer Zou Lihong captured her third medal and first individual gold of the Rio Paralympics on Sunday, beating American Tatyana McFadden in a photo finish in the women’s marathon.
On a course looping along sun-soaked Copacabana Beach, Zou and McFadden spent the race in a lead pack of eight competitors and then sprinted to the finish. The pair finished in identical times of 1 hour, 38 minutes, 44 seconds. But after they crossed the finish line, Zou, ahead by a whisker, raised an arm in victory.
Amanda McGrory of the United States was third in 1:38:45.
The 32-year-old Zou, a world champion last year at 5,000 meters and 800 meters, took bronze in the 400 meters in Rio. She also was part of China’s gold medal-winning 4 X 400-meter relay.
“It was very technical course because it’s so flat. I tried to make a couple of moves in the beginning, but everyone came together so that wasn’t working,” said McFadden, who bolted ahead briefly right at the starting gun. “I knew athletes were waiting at the end to sprint so I’m proud of myself for pulling the last three miles and taking home a silver.”
Entering the games with her sights set on seven gold medals in every wheelchair racing event, from the 100 meters on up, McFadden finished with six medals, four gold and two silver.
The only race in which she didn’t medal was the 4 X 400 relay, after the U.S. team was disqualified due to a lane violation. Her other silver was in the 100 meters, her first event. In that race, McFadden couldn’t completely close the gap after Chinese racer Liu Wenjun got out to an excellent start.
“It’s been amazing, especially to medal in all six events from the 100 to the marathon, and it’s been amazing to medal silver in both events because they’re so opposite,” McFadden said.
Of all her events, McFadden has performed best in the marathon, although this is her first Paralympic medal in the race. She finished ninth in the 2012 London Paralympics.
In 2013, she made history when she was the first person – able-bodied or otherwise – to win all four major marathons, Boston, New York, Chicago and London, in a single year. She then repeated the feat two times over for a grand total of 12 marathon titles in three years.
McFadden set Paralympic records in the 800, 1,500 and 5,000 meters in Rio, and was part of American podium sweeps twice, in the 1,500 and 5,000.
Born with spina bifida, McFadden is paralyzed from the waist down and spent the first six years of her life in a Russian orphanage. She was adopted by Deborah McFadden, who brought her back to the United States and raised her with her longtime partner, Bridget O’Shaughnessey, in Maryland.
In the men’s wheelchair marathon, which started a minute before the women’s race, Marcel Hug of Switzerland won his second Rio gold and fourth medal of the games, finishing in a time of 1 hour, 26 minutes, 16 seconds.
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