Age-defying Madsen scores 10th Paralympic medal

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Nebraska City’s Cheri Madsen earned her 10th Paralympic medal on Thursday in Tokyo as she finished second in the women’s T54 400-meter dash.

Madsen finished in 53.91 seconds. Manuela Schaer (Switzerland) earned gold with a time of 53.59 seconds, and Zhaoqian Zhou (China) took third place in 54.10 seconds. Madsen’s teammate, Tatyana McFadden, came in fourth place with a time of 54.35 seconds.

This was Madsen’s 10th overall Paralympic medal and her fifth silver. She has competed at the 1996, 2000, 2016, and 2020 Paralympic games. She told reporters that the Tokyo Paralympics would likely be her last.

Twenty-five years after she had first medalled at the 1996 Atlanta Games, the 44-year-old earned bronze in the 100 meters T54 at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics ahead of Thursday’s silver medal performance.

Madsen clocked a season-best 16.33sec in the 100 meters to finish behind China’s Zhaoqian Zhou (15.90sec) and Finland’s Amanda Kotaja (15.93sec).

“It feels good again… lot of hard work paid off tonight. It means a lot,” said a delighted Madsen after the bronze medal ceremony.

Having quit the sport to start a family following her appearance at the Sydney 2000 Games, when she won gold in the 100 and 400 meter T54 events, the American made a dramatic comeback in 2013. All this after she had to deal with the tragic death of her younger brother and father in a train mishap.

“I never ever had the intention to come back and I’m still here racing only for my brother. He asked if I’m ever going to race again. He told me some of the best memories of his was watching me race and he really wanted me to show that to my girls," she explained.

“It always kind of sat in the back of my mind that this is something that he believed I could do. So, I’m still doing the sport in the honour of my brother,” said Madsen, who had bagged a silver at Rio in the women's 400 meters T54."

The task of coming back into the big leagues was always a challenging one, especially with so many youngsters coming into the sport. The US trials can be compared to the fiercest, but Madsen says, she was always up for the challenge and trying to keep herself in the best of shape.

“Age might be just a number, but it is certainly catching up with me,” laughed Madsen, but in the same breath added that she has been training four hours a day and six days a week.

“Yes, the US women are very dominant in the sport, and I have worked really hard to get this far,” revealed the American, who attributes her success to the people who believed in her.    

“I wouldn’t say people were skeptical when I decided to comeback. There were many people who believed in me and knew my dedication and hard work. The family support was great,” said the athlete, adding that her natural ability to adapt quickly to the training regime helped her to get back and maintain top form.

“The two ladies that beat me are in the 20s, I probably have 20 years on them plus. So that just goes to show that if you work really hard then you can accomplish whatever you want. I never let the thought come to my mind that I won’t be able to do it.”

Madsen felt that the postponement of the Games gave a better chance for the younger athletes to get to peak form.  

“COVID was pretty difficult, and a lot of these youngster got time to get faster. And me aging by a year, I had to change my training techniques as we were not going to be sprinting anymore, so we did a lot for distance stuff. Hit the gym a little bit. It was a year of no competitions so had to resort to other stuff,” said Madsen.

So, has the world seen the last of Madsen?  

“Yeah, I'll be 45 in a couple of weeks. So, I've always felt like I wanted to retire from the Games, but I don't want the Games to retire me. So, I feel like this would be a good time.

“I feel like I'm ready to be done. I've enjoyed coming back to the sport. I've got to see all the things we talked about in the 90s, about changes we wanted to see, come true. So, it's been a real blessing that I've been able to actually be a part of it and witness it. That's been really cool for me."

Cheri Madsen poses with her ninth medal on Wednesday, Sept. 1, at Olympic Stadium at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.