The Chance To Qualify For Paris Adds Extra Significance To The NYC Marathon For Team USA Racers
by Lynn Rutherford
Leaves and temperatures are falling, coats are being dug out of closets and New Yorkers are enjoying the last gasp of autumn before the holidays. That means it’s time for the New York City Marathon.
For Team USA’s wheelchair racers, there is far more on the line on Sunday than the $175,000 in total prize money. The top two American finishers in the women’s and men’s events will qualify for the Paralympic Games Paris 2024, provided they also have a minimum qualifying time and are ranked in the top 20 in the world.
“That great feeling you have when you cross the New York City finishing line could be even more exciting, if it also secures a spot to Paris next summer,” said Susannah Scaroni, who won the women’s wheelchair division in New York last year.
A three-time Paralympian, Scaroni placed sixth in the marathon at the 2020 Tokyo Games, while winning gold in the 5,000-meter and bronze in the 800-meter T54.
“Regardless of what else happens, I’m really hoping to make the top two American women’s slots, to make the team to Paris next summer,” she said. “My goal is to just get out there and do the best I can do that day, and I definitely did that last year.”
The 32-year-old from Tekoa, Washington, who set a course record of 1:42:43 in New York last year, comes in as the favorite to repeat. In April, she won the Boston Marathon for the first time —despite having to pull over early in the race to tighten a loose axle with an Allen wrench.
“That does give me some confidence,” she said. “It was a boost that I was able to get back to the pace I was holding before that. Mentally, it is nice to know you can recover from having actually stopped your racing chair, to recover the pace you need to hold to maintain the gap (with other racers). That’s great knowledge for me.”
Even without a wobbly wheel, Sunday’s race has plenty of challenges. Scaroni calls the 26.2-mile course “grueling.” Early morning temperatures — professional wheelchair racers are the first on the course, starting at 8 a.m. — are expected to be in the 50s, with no rain and little wind. That’s great for runners, but not so good for wheelchair racers.
“It’s (going to be) chilly, and we’re going up hills, but we are also going down a lot of hills in this race,” she said. “That’s going to increase the windchill a lot. I think that’s going to impact the wheelchair racers a little negatively. For me specifically, I train in Illinois, I’m from the northwest, I’m pretty used to cold weather, so I’m a little bit better at adapting.”
Five-time New York City Marathon winner Tatyana McFadden races this year in a carbon-fiber framed chair she acquired in April, which has taken some acclimation time.
The 20-time Paralympic medalist skipped the Boston Marathon to get used to her new chair. After using it for two weeks, she competed in the London Marathon and finished in 13th place.
“Now that I’ve gotten it dialed in, I feel much more comfortable climbing and descending,” McFadden said. “You really do feel that difference between the carbon and the aluminum, and so it’s amazing to be on the same playing field as Susannah and Manuela (Schär).”
Like Scaroni, McFadden has fulfilled the other qualifications for the upcoming Games. The Baltimore native has a qualifying time from the Berlin Marathon in September and ranks in the world top 10. In Paris, she hopes to compete not only in the marathon, but in three sprint events as well as the 800 and 5000.
“At the world championships (in July), I just focused on sprinting,” McFadden, 34, said. “I wanted to see how I would do in the 100, 400 and 800 meters, and that went really well, especially in the new chair. Now I’m focused on distance again, and I did great at the Chicago Marathon last month – I got third – so I’m really excited to see what Sunday will hold.”
Scaroni and McFadden will square off against five other Team USA wheelchair racers on Sunday, in addition to Schär, a three-time New York City Marathon winner from Switzerland who won the Tokyo Marathon in March. Madison de Rozario will also be a factor, as the Australian won in New York in 2021 and claimed the London title in April, edging Schär by just one second.
Scaroni also thinks two newcomers to New York could shake things up.
“I would say this field is potentially stronger than last year,” she said. “Eden Rainbow-Cooper (Great Britain) and Catherine Debrunner (Switzerland) have both recently performed really well. They are making their debuts in New York, so it’s a new course for them and it will be interesting to see how they do.”
On the men’s side, 2018 and 2019 champion Daniel Romanchuk, second to five-time winner Marcel Hug of Switzerland last year, is looking forward to Sunday for personal, as well as professional, reasons.
“My sister and brother-in-law live here, and it’s always great to be able to see them, and they are actually running this year, so that’s a little extra special to hopefully get to see them cross the finish line,” Romanchuk said.
The 25-year-old from Mount Airy, Maryland, who now trains primarily in Champaign, Illinois, recently returned to his hometown for a week’s training.
“I think that training has been going very well,” he said. “I got out to Maryland to get on some hills a week or so ago, so I was able to get out and get used to some hills before race day.”
Romanchuk is joined by 11 other Team USA racers in the men’s division, including three-time Summer Paralympians Aaron Pike and Brian Siemann, as well as 2016 Paralympian James Senbeta. All of them will likely be chasing Hug, the course recordholder who has already won in Boston, London and Chicago this year.
“I don’t ever set a goal of winning a race, or coming in a specific place,” Romanchuk said. “I try to keep my goals within my capabilities. It’s always, ‘Try to work on being efficient,’ ‘Pay attention to who is in the pack,’ things like that.”
Lynn Rutherford is a freelance writer based in New York. She is a contributor to usparatandf.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.