Illini win in Paralympics’ 1st weekend

After the first weekend of 2012 Paralympic competition, two Illini athletes have already earned gold medals, with Ray Martin taking home two.

Martin, an incoming freshman at Illinois, dominated his competition in both of his events so far. He won his first career final — the men’s 100-meter dash of the T52 classification — Sunday. Martin looked like a veteran, finishing with a time of 17.02 seconds. Hernandez Mondragon Salvador of Mexico finished second in 17.64.

Sunday was just the beginning for Martin.

The 18-year-old won another gold Monday in the final of the men’s T52 400 meters, a classification for athletes with spinal cord injuries.

Martin finished the race in 58.54 seconds, beating out Japan’s Tomoya Ito, who finished in 1:00.40. Martin will try to earn his third gold medal when he competes in the T52 800 Friday.

Tatyana McFadden, a junior at Illinois, won her first gold medal Monday in the final of the women’s T54 400. McFadden beat Hongjiao Dong of China, finishing with a personal-best time of 52.97. In 2008, McFadden earned a silver medal in the 400. Her next event will be the prelims of the T54 800 on Tuesday. McFadden’s personal best of 1:46.97 is better than any of the 20 competitors in that event.

Four other Illini competed in three track and field events Sunday. Josh George finished fifth in the men’s T53 400 in 51.14. He won a bronze medal in 2004 in the same event.

Jessica Galli and Anjali Forber-Pratt finished fourth and sixth, respectively, in the final of the women’s T53 100 on Sunday. Galli finished with a time of 17.42, compared to Forber-Pratt’s 17.67.

Amanda McGrory finished seventh in the final of the women’s T54 5,000 on Sunday. She finished with a time of 12:29.07 in the final after finishing first in her qualifying heat. She won a gold medal in the same event in 2008.

McGrory said Tuesday that participating in so many races could be tiring.

“It’s a lot of events, a lot of time spent on the track,” McGrory said. “(The races) don’t end up being that long. The longest I’m on the track is the 5,000, which only takes 11 or 12 minutes. To do that event, you end up being at the track for somewhere between six or seven hours.”

McGrory has a strategy to avoid the fatigue that will come from competing in three more events.

“The most important thing is being relaxed,” the Illinois graduate said. “There’s a lot of excitement, there’s a lot of different personalities and all sorts of things going on. I think the most important thing for me is just to remember why I’m here, and that is to compete.

Along with Martin and McFadden competing Monday, three other Illini participated in events.

Brian Siemann placed sixth in the final of the men’s T53 100, finishing in 15.39. Round One of the men’s T54 1,500 also began Monday. Aaron Pike finished seventh in his heat, failing to qualify for the finals. George also did not qualify, finishing fifth in his heat.

With the men’s wheelchair basketball quarterfinals beginning Wednesday, the last preliminary games were played Monday. The men’s Canadian and Australian teams, featuring a combined five Illini, will enter the quarterfinals as the favored teams after going undefeated in the preliminary round.

Australia, which won its group, went a perfect 3-0 on the weekend. After defeating Turkey 71-64 Friday, Australia defeated Spain, U.S. and Italy the next three days. Australia has outscored its opponents by an average margin of 22.6 points per game. The two Illini on Team Australia, Dylan Alcott and Grant Mizens, did not score Monday.

While the two Illini were modest contributors to the Australian effort, Patrick Anderson of Canada wasn’t only the best player on his team, he’s been the best player of the tournament thus far. Anderson, a former Illini, had a triple-double Friday in a win against Great Britain. He nearly had another triple-double Saturday in a victory over Poland, finishing with 34 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists. And on Sunday, in a victory over Germany, Anderson recorded his second triple-double of the tournament with 25 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists.

Canada finished off the weekend with a 68-42 victory over Colombia on Monday. Anderson played only 10 minutes in the game, scoring 13 points while grabbing four rebounds and dishing out two assists. After a 21-8 first-quarter lead, Anderson sat out for the rest of the game. Former Illini Adam Lancia contributed two points, five rebounds and four assists to the game while another Illini, Brandon Wagner, had two points and two rebounds in the win.

Two Illini contributed in a huge 63-55 win for the U.S. against Spain on Monday. Will Waller, former Illini and team captain, finished with six points and two rebounds, while Steven Serio, also of Illinois, recorded six points, three rebounds and five assists. The U.S. was led by Jason Nelms, who finished with 21 points. The win moved the Americans ahead of Spain in their group, avoiding having to play Canada. The U.S. will now play Germany in the quarterfinals.

On the women’s side, Germany and the U.S. are the two top teams. Germany finished preliminary competition with a perfect 4-0 record, outscoring opponents by 24 points per game on average. Former Illini Edina Mueller contributed two points and six assists to Germany in a 68-28 victory over Mexico on Monday. Germany is the only undefeated team on the women’s side. The second-best team — the U.S. — had a bit of an unlucky draw.

If the U.S. was part of Australia’s group, it would be in first place with a record of 3-1. Unfortunately for the Americans, who have a 70-point combined differential, they are in second place to Germany. Instead, Australia will enter the quarterfinals with a higher seed than the U.S. despite both squads having the same record. Australia only has a 31-point combined differential.

The Americans only loss came Friday, 54-48, to first-place Germany. The U.S. led for much of the game before being outscored 21-12 in the fourth quarter.

The U.S. rebounded by dominating Mexico 67-33 on Saturday, with team captain and Illini Sarah Castle finishing with four points, six rebounds and five assists. Jennifer Chew, another Illini, scored a point and assisted on two baskets. After having a day off Sunday, the U.S. ended preliminary play with a 68-65 overtime victory against China. The Americans were down by 11 heading into the fourth quarter and stormed back, outscoring the Chinese 26-15 in the final frame to force overtime. Rebecca Murray of the U.S., who finished with 30 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, made the game-winning field goal with 39 seconds remaining. Chew and Castle did not score.

The women’s wheelchair basketball quarterfinals begin on Tuesday.

_Michael can be reached at [email protected] and @The_MDubb._