For a few minutes in the early miles of today’s ING New York City Marathon, Tatyana McFadden had company. Just past mile 3, five-time Boston Marathon champion Wakako Tsuchida caught up to McFadden, who had blasted out to a quick early lead, and for an instant the two wheelchair stars worked together.
It was the only time all day that McFadden saw another woman on the course. By mile 4, McFadden had pulled ahead. By 10K, she was 33 seconds in lead; by mile 8, 1:08; by the half-marathon mark, 2:20.
And when she crossed the finish line in Central Park in 1:59:13, McFadden was not only 3:41 ahead of Tsuchida, the runner-up, but also emphatically in the history books as the first wheelchair athlete, male or female, to win the “Grand Slam” of marathons in Boston, London, Chicago, and New York in the same calendar year.
Tsuchida, of Japan, finished second in 2:02:54, with Manuela Schär of Switzerland third in 2:03:53.
“I’ve had an incredible year,” said McFadden, 24, who in addition to her historic marathon blitz won a record six gold medals at the IPC World Championships this summer.
Born with spina bifida, McFadden was left in a Russian orphanage as a baby. With no wheelchair, she learned to walk using her arms as legs until the age of 6, when she was adopted by American family. At 15, she was the youngest member of the U.S. team at the 2004 Paralympics. This was her fourth ING New York City Marathon since 2009, a string that included a victory in 2010.
With history on the line today, McFadden’s pre-race jitters were eased by a headwind that she knew could be used to her advantage: She is a talented climber but not a great coaster, so the headwinds that slowed everyone as they went downhill hurt her competitors more than they hurt her.
“I knew it was going to take strength, and endurance, and power,” she said.
Still, she was surprised to spend most of the race by herself.
“When Wakako caught me, I thought she was going to stay with me the entire race, and Amanda [McGrory, the defending ING New York City champion] and Manuela are also really strong. So having them work together with picking up the speeds, I thought for sure they were going to catch me.”
Despite her hectic year—she will graduate next month from the University of Illinois –Champaign, where she trains with 24 other wheelchair pros—McFadden isn’t planning to take a rest anytime soon. Instead, she will try to make the 2014 U.S. Paralympic team as a cross-country skier, a sport she only recently took up.
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg