U.S. breaks world record in Paralympic debut of universal relay, McFadden gets first Tokyo gold

2020 Tokyo Paralympics - Day 10
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The “Magic 4” earned its name Friday night in Tokyo, winning Paralympic gold for the United States in the universal relay.

Noah Malone, Brittni Mason, Nick Mayhugh and Tatyana McFadden teamed up in the Paralympic debut of what one commentator called track and field’s “greatest hits” event, setting a world record in the process.

“We knew it from the beginning,” Malone, a T12 athlete, told NBC reporter Lewis Johnson. “We spoke this one into existence. We knew we were going to win; we knew we were going to get the world record. It was in the air. It was just great to actually execute it, and it felt great.”

The universal relay is a 4x100m race where each team features athletes from four significantly different classifications. A country can choose a male or female athlete for any spot in its lineup (provided the team has two of each), but must lead with a visually impaired athlete (T11-13), followed by an athlete with a limb impairment (T42-47 or T61-64), coordination impairment (T35-38), and close with a wheelchair racer (T33-34 or T51-54).

The same U.S. quartet ran in the heats – their first time racing together – and set a new American record of 46.72 seconds to win the second of three heats. China set a new world record of 46.02 in the first heat, lowering its own world record from the 2019 World Championships.

Despite facing stiff competition from the Chinese, the Americans were off to a blistering start in the four-team final from Malone, and Mason (T46) and Mayhugh (T37) held the lead from there. While China, Great Britain and Japan stacked their lineups with female-male-female-male, the U.S. had the reverse and ended with McFadden (T54) racing against three men.

Her competitors were no match for the five-time Paralympian – and the lead her teammates provided – as she raced to the finish line in 45.52 seconds, with China crossing in 46.03.

China was later disqualified due to an issue with one of its exchanges, giving Great Britain the silver (47.50) and host country Japan the bronze (47.98).

“It’s amazing,” Mason said. “Running with this team and being on this stage is amazing. We spoke it into existence, and we’re like, okay guys, we’re going to execute, we’re going to go out here, we’re going to believe in each other and we’re going to do it. That’s exactly what we did, and it’s so surreal that our dreams that we were manifesting this morning after we saw what we were capable of this morning came true. So there’s nothing but excitement.”

“We had a small team meeting [after the prelims] and we just said, look, this is a real opportunity for us, if we put things together we’ll be fine, if we smooth out a couple of things we’ll be just fine,” Mayhugh said.

The win kept McFadden’s streak of gold medals on the track alive. She now owns 20 Paralympic medals, eight of which are gold. While she has medaled at every Games since Athens in 2004, her golds have all come in London, Rio and now Tokyo. She also earned a silver and bronze at these Tokyo Paralympics.

McFadden had finished a disappointing fifth in her last individual race on the track, the 1500m T54, on Thursday. She was the two-time defending Paralympic champion at that distance.

“I was so happy I was considered for the relay, and I knew that this was the group to be in it,” McFadden shared. “I was manifesting it earlier that this was going to be it, and when practicing I knew it in my heart. We got out really fast, we transitioned really well. There’s no one I’d rather have than these three others with me. They’ve worked so hard to get here and trained so hard. I’m just honored after yesterday’s race that I put it all together mentally and stayed focused for the team and our country.”

Mayhugh was cheering at the top of his lungs for McFadden after tagging her and keeping pace in the first several meters while she got up to speed.

“To be able to do it with a great group of people and the legendary Tatyana McFadden – this is her last race on the track in Tokyo, so I know I wanted to send her out with a gold and the world record’s nice,” he said.

McFadden will pursue her first Paralympic marathon gold on Sunday after taking silver in Rio.

“We’re calling ourselves the magic 4,” McFadden posted to Instagram of the four athletes whose last names all begin with ‘M,’ though it’s unknown whether that was taken into consideration when choosing the nickname.

Tokyo was the Paralympic debut for all but McFadden, and the universal relay marked the first gold for Mason and Malone. Earlier in the meet, Mayhugh won the 100m T37 in world record fashion. He also claimed silver in the 400m T37, while Mason did so in the 100m T47 and Malone in both the 100 and 400m T12.

Mayhugh the 200m T12 world record in Friday’s heats and will race the final on Saturday, the last day of competition on the track.

A full Paralympic Games broadcast schedule is available here. Events can also be streamed on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app, with more info available here.

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