Angela Madsen
AP

Ex-Paralympian rower found dead during California-Hawaii voyage

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HONOLULU — The body of a paraplegic woman rowing from California to Hawaii was headed to Tahiti after she was found lifeless in the water over the weekend, the U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday.

A friend of Angela Madsen, 60, contacted the Coast Guard Sunday after not hearing from her for more than 24 hours, Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir said.

Madsen, who had been at sea for 59 days, was about 1,145 miles (1,842 kilometers) east of Hilo, Hawaii, when she was last heard from, Muir said. Madsen had been planning to go for a swim.

“She was out in the middle of the ocean, with not really anything around,” Muir said.

The Coast Guard reached out to commercial vessels in the area of Madsen’s last known location and asked an Air National Guard flight crew headed from California to Hawaii to fly over the area.

The air crew “could see that she was in the water, tethered to the vessel, but there was no reaction to their presence,” Muir said. “She was unresponsive.”

The Polynesia, a ship in the area, retrieved her body. “Now they’re continuing on their scheduled course and they’re going to take the body to Tahiti, where the family will do whatever they need to do to get her home to California,” Muir said.

Madsen’s family couldn’t immediately be reached Thursday.

According to a website, Madsen was a three-time Paralympian and Marine Corps veteran who aimed to be the first paraplegic and oldest woman to row the Pacific Ocean.

“We are processing this devastating loss,” said a message on the website by Debra Madsen, her wife, and Soraya Simi, who was making a documentary about her. “To row an ocean solo was her biggest goal. She knew the risks better than any of us and was willing to take those risks because being at sea made her happier than anything else. She told us time and again that if she died trying, that is how she wanted to go.”

In 2014, while getting ready to row from California to Hawaii, she said rowing is a venue where partially paralyzed people can excel.

“You get out of your chair and just get on a boat and nobody knows the difference between you and anybody else out here,” Madsen said.

Who is Australia’s greatest Olympian?

Cathy Freeman
Getty Images
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Australia has competed at every Summer Olympics and is best known for its swimmers, racking up 192 medals, nearly three times as many as its next-best sport, track and field. Despite ranking outside the world top 50 in population, it is eighth in all-time Summer Olympic medals. Australia is also the only nation in the Southern Hemisphere to earn a Winter Olympic gold medal, though this list is made up entirely of Summer Olympians …

Betty Cuthbert
Track and Field
Four Olympic Gold Medals

The only person to win Olympic titles in the 100m, 200m and 400m. Even more impressive, Cuthbert did it in a span of three Olympics from 1956-64. At age 18, she had bought tickets to attend the 1956 Melbourne Games, doubting she would qualify to compete. Not only did she make the team, she swept the 100m, 200m and 4x100m, earning the nickname “Golden Girl.” Cuthbert was slowed by a hamstring injury at the 1960 Rome Games, missing the medals. She returned 1964 to compete in one event, the Olympic debut of the women’s 400m, and earned another gold.

Dawn Fraser
Swimming
Four Olympic Gold Medals

Fraser’s medal haul — four golds, four silvers — would have been greater had the Olympic swimming program included the 50m and 200m freestyles in the 1950s and ’60s. Even so, she broke 27 individual world records in her career, according to Olympedia.org. She was so famous in Australia that a daffodil, rose and an orchid were named after her. Fraser’s Olympic career ended with the 1964 Tokyo Games, for she was suspended 10 years for her actions there. The alleged misconduct: Fraser marching in the Opening Ceremony (against Australia’s federation’s wishes as swimmers usually sit out before competing through the first week), wearing a swimsuit that wasn’t official team apparel and attempting to take an Olympic Flag from outside the Japanese emperor’s palace. The ban was reportedly stopped before the 1968 Olympics, but too late for her to race at a fourth Games.

Cathy Freeman
Track and Field
2000 Olympic 400m champion, cauldron lighter

Freeman’s significance goes beyond her gold medal. She was named Australian of the Year in 1998, two years before lighting the cauldron at the Sydney Olympic Opening Ceremony, a defining moment for her nation’s indigenous Aboriginal people. Ten days later, she lined up for the 400m final in front of 112,524 fans at Stadium Australia and 10 million more Australians on TV (more than half the population). In a green-and-white hooded speedsuit, she prevailed under unimaginable pressure. “Relief,” she said. “It was just relief. It was totally overwhelming because I could feel the crowd all around me, all over me.”

Rechelle Hawkes
Field Hockey
Three Olympic Gold Medals (2000)

The only woman with three Olympic field hockey gold medals. Hawkes debuted with the national team in 1985, the year she turned 18, captained the team from 1993-2000 (when they won every international event save one) and played 279 games for the Hockeyroos through her last Olympics in 2000.

Ian Thorpe
Swimming
Five Olympic Gold Medals

The Thorpedo was one of Australia’s most famous people when the nation was the world’s focus during the 2000 Sydney Games. At 17, he earned three gold medals and two silvers. He was the world’s best swimmer, though surpassed by Michael Phelps by the end of 2003. Still, Thorpe held four world records going into the 2004 Athens Games (200m and 400m freestyles, 4x100m and 4x200m free relays). He won the 200m and 400m frees in Athens, the former over Phelps and Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband dubbed the Race of the Century. Thorpe bowed out from major international competition at age 21, announcing his retirement two years later, citing a lack of desire.

James Tomkins
Rowing (2008)
Three Olympic Gold Medals

A gold medalist at three different Games. A world champion in all five sweep events. His global titles spanned from 1986 to 2004. Tomkins, during his rowing career, also earned a degree in economics and finance, surfed and worked for Bankers Trust, a large bank in Australia.

BEST OLYMPIANS: Brazil | Canada | China | Germany | Italy | Japan

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Who is Canada’s greatest Olympian?

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Canada is one of few nations with more gold medals in the Winter Olympics than the Summer Olympics, though its greatest Olympian may be a dual Summer/Winter Olympian. A look at some of its legends …

Charles Hamelin
Short Track Speed Skating
Three Olympic gold medals

Canada’s most decorated male Winter Olympian with five medals (his three golds and one silver break a tie with fellow short trackers Marc Gagnon and François-Louis Tremblay, who didn’t have the individual Olympic success that Hamelin boasts). Hamelin has been competing in the world championships since 2004 and the Olympics since 2006, still going as of last season. He owns multiple world titles at each distance, and Olympic golds in three different events (one relay). Hamelin’s peak occurred on Feb. 26, 2010, when he earned Olympic 500m and 5000m relay titles in the same hour, at home in Vancouver.

Kaillie Humphries
Bobsled
Two Olympic gold medals

Largely considered the greatest female bobsledder in history. Humphries is an American now, but, as a Canadian, became the first female driver to win multiple Olympic titles in 2010 and 2014, then tacked on a bronze in 2018. She also won two world titles and four World Cup season titles, trailing only to German Sandra Kiriasis (who won one Olympic title). This all came after Humphries abandoned an Alpine skiing career at age 16 due to injuries, then failed to make the 2006 Olympic team as a brakewoman.

Kathleen Heddle/Marnie McBean
Rowing
Three Olympic gold medals

Olympic champions in three different events. Olympic medalists in four different events. The first women to earn multiple rowing golds at a single Olympics. At the turn of the millennium, McBean was the only woman to earn a medal in all six open-weight classes at a world championships or Olympics. Heddle began rowing at 18 and retired between their first and second Olympics (1992 and 1996), lured back by McBean. McBean did more at worlds (eight medals, three titles), but a back injury kept her out of the 2000 Sydney Games after Heddle retired for good.

Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir
Figure Skating
Three Olympic gold medals

Most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history, thanks in part to the addition of the team event. In 2010, Virtue and Moir became the youngest Olympic ice dance champions at 20 and 22, after first pairing in elementary school in Ontario. They dropped to silver in Sochi, then emerged from a two-year break to ascend back to the top of ice dance. Virtue and Moir earned double gold in PyeongChang, their final competition. They had such chemistry on the ice, such a magnetic romanticism, that many refused to believe they weren’t a couple off of it.

Hayley Wickenheiser
Hockey, Softball
Four Olympic gold medals

Arguably the greatest female hockey player in history. Wickenheiser competed in the first five Olympic women’s hockey tournaments — 1998 through 2014 — among a 23-year span with the national team. She was MVP of the Olympic tournament in 2002, then again in 2006. Some forget that she also made Canada’s softball team for the 2000 Sydney Games. Wickenheiser, who grew up on a Saskatchewan ranch, also attended the Philadelphia Flyers rookie training camp in 1998 and 1999.

BEST OLYMPIANS: China | Germany | Italy | Japan

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