Shawn Morelli won the United States’ first medal of the Tokyo Paralympics Wednesday afternoon in track cycling.
In her Paralympic debut five years ago, Morelli also medaled on the first day of competition, though that time long jumper Lex Gillette’s silver had come earlier in the day; still, Morelli’s was the first U.S. gold that year.
Morelli won gold in two of her three events – track pursuit and road time trial – at the Rio 2016 Games and starts out a similar campaign in Tokyo by taking the silver medal in the individual pursuit C4.
Now 45 years old, Morelli had set a Paralympic record in Rio of 3:57.741, though that was smashed in this morning’s qualifying race by Australia’s Emily Petricola, who finished the 3000m race in a world-record time of 3:38.061. Morelli was second in qualifying in 3:46.842.
Two-time reigning world champion Petricola and Morelli went head to head for the gold medal, with Petricola becoming the clear winner of her career-first Paralympic race once she overlapped Morelli after nine of the anticipated 12 laps. Canadian Keely Shaw earned bronze in her race against Aussie Meg Lemon.
Commissioned into the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant in 1996, Morelli served as an engineer officer in Iraq and Afghanistan. She was injured in the latter in 2007 when a roadside bomb detonated, leaving her with no vision in her left eye and severe damage to her spine and neck. She began cycling competitively in 2010 and has since won 16 world championship medals across road and track cycling, including 12 golds.
Another Australian cyclist, Paige Greco, won the first gold medal awarded in Tokyo in the women’s C1-3 category. American Clara Brown, the 2020 world champion, was fourth in that event.
The U.S. has six athletes in the evening’s swimming finals, including two-time Paralympic medalist Elizabeth Marks who earlier in the day set a Paralympic record of 33.16 seconds in the 50m freestyle S6.
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