River swimming, Zwift, indoor tennis; Paralympians find unique training amid coronavirus pandemic

Sophia Herzog
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NBCSN presents two nights of Paralympic programming in primetime on Wednesday and Thursday, looking back on champion performances from the Rio Games. Meanwhile, U.S. hopefuls for Tokyo found unique ways to train amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A look at how athletes adapted in four different Paralympic sports … 

Swimming: Suiting up in the Arkansas River
Paralympic silver medalist Sophia Herzog went from swimming nine times a week at the Salida Rec Center in Colorado to once a week in the Arkansas River. “The whole point in swimming there is actually just to keep the feel of the water,” she said. “You lose that about a day and a half of being out of the water.”

Herzog’s primary exercise after her pool closed became cycling. But, around a dozen times this spring, she zipped on a wetsuit and plunged into 50-degree water for 30-minute sessions. She fought a current, while keeping her head above water as much as possible. She had to watch her surroundings to avoid the rafters, kayakers, big sticks and dogs coming downstream. Her boyfriend became her lifeguard.

Track and Field: Partners Separated
David Brown won a Rio Paralympic 100m title with guide runner Jerome Avery at his side. They’ve been together since February 2014, highlighted by Brown becoming the first totally blind athlete to break 11 seconds in the 100m. But they were separated in March when the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., closed to resident athletes. As weeks turned to months, Brown and Avery realized they had not been apart for this long in more than six years.

“Since David abandoned me,” Avery joked, “I went and got a pet.” A 4-month-old Cane Corso named Apollo.

Brown moved from the OTC to rent a room with a family, 30 minutes away from Avery’s residence. He began running grass-field sprints and jumping rope at a park, with his girlfriend, an archer, assisting. When he trained with Avery six days a week, Brown could sprint 150 meters on a track. Without him, at the park, his girlfriend claps, and Brown can run 80 meters in the grass. Brown and Avery are confident that the break will not hinder them on the road to Tokyo. “Once we get paired together again, it’s like riding a bike,” Avery said. “We’re going to be perfect.”

Tennis: A Homemade Court
When Dana Mathewson moved from London to Central Florida in late February, she knew life would change. She could not have imagined the only tennis she would play for months would be inside her new home. Mathewson, the highest-ranked U.S. male or female wheelchair tennis player at No. 11 in the world, said earlier in June that she was essentially on lockdown for three months before the USTA National Campus in Orlando reopened last week.

She relocated to the area to take advantage of the facilities after two years in England, working toward a clinical doctorate degree in audiology at University College in London. Mathewson, while living with two other tennis players in Florida, decided to “make lockdown fun” and set up the makeshift court in an open room. “It was birthed out of boredom, to be honest,” she said. They used smaller rackets and softer balls from USTA’s Net Generation program for kids. “So we knew we wouldn’t ruin the walls or the windows,” she said.

They played regularly until Mathewson moved out in early April due to allergies and the fact her housemates had cats. Mathewson, who learned to crochet and fostered Riley, a three-month-old Cockapoo, during stay-at-home, may move on from the sport after the Tokyo Games. She’s putting all her effort into rising into the top eight in the world to earn entry into Grand Slams and make it financially viable to continue beyond 2021.

Cycling: Virtual Time Trials
Starting April 30, U.S. Paralympics Cycling began holding weekly Zwift competitions open to para-cyclists from around the world. In a time trial format, each cyclist received a staggered start time and competed on bike trainers at home to power their virtual avatars over a 10-mile circuit. It was open to handcycles, tricycles, tandems and standard bicycles. U.S. Paralympics already had national team rides twice a week on Zwift. With group riding outside eliminated due to the pandemic, U.S. Paralympics Cycling CEO Ian Lawless came up with the virtual time trial idea.

“The biggest thing, at least for the athletes that I work with, it’s more maintaining that motivation,” said Sarah Hammer, a four-time Olympic track cycling medalist who is now the U.S. Para-cycling head coach. “It’s just creating that motivation when, suddenly, your Paralympic Games have been pushed back by a year.”

MORE: Paralympic programming set for primetime next 3 weeks

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Olympian Derrick Mein ends U.S. men’s trap drought at shotgun worlds

Derrick Mein
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Tokyo Olympian Derrick Mein became the first U.S. male shooter to win a world title in the trap event since 1966, prevailing at the world shotgun championships in Osijek, Croatia, on Wednesday.

Mein, who grew up on a small farm in Southeast Kansas, hunting deer and quail, nearly squandered a place in the final when he missed his last three shots in the semifinal round after hitting his first 22. He rallied in a sudden-death shoot-off for the last spot in the final by hitting all five of his targets.

He hit 33 of 34 targets in the final to win by two over Brit Nathan Hales with one round to spare.

The last U.S. man to win an Olympic trap title was Donald Haldeman in 1976.

Mein, 37, was 24th in his Olympic debut in Tokyo (and placed 13th with Kayle Browning in the mixed-gender team event).

The U.S. swept the Tokyo golds in the other shotgun event — skeet — with Vincent Hancock and Amber English. Browning took silver in women’s trap.

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Mo Farah withdraws before London Marathon

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British track legend Mo Farah withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon, citing a right hip injury before what would have been his first 26.2-mile race in nearly two years.

Farah, who swept the 2012 and 2016 Olympic track titles at 5000m and 10,000m, said he hoped “to be back out there” next April, when the London Marathon returns to its traditional month after COVID moved it to the fall for three consecutive years. Farah turns 40 on March 23.

“I’ve been training really hard over the past few months and I’d got myself back into good shape and was feeling pretty optimistic about being able to put in a good performance,” in London, Farah said in a press release. “However, over the past 10 days I’ve been feeling pain and tightness in my right hip. I’ve had extensive physio and treatment and done everything I can to be on the start line, but it hasn’t improved enough to compete on Sunday.”

Farah switched from the track to the marathon after the 2017 World Championships and won the 2018 Chicago Marathon in a then-European record time of 2:05:11. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi now holds the record at 2:03:36.

Farah returned to the track in a failed bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then shifted back to the roads.

Sunday’s London Marathon men’s race is headlined by Ethiopians Kenenisa Bekele and Birhanu Legese, the second- and third-fastest marathoners in history.

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