Athletics: 'Beast' holds off Wolf to snaffle her third gold of Games


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The Independent Online

She beat the woman called Wolf and matched "the Weirwolf". With a telling burst on the final lap of the women's T54 1500m final last night, Tatyana McFadden claimed her third gold medal on the track in the 2012 Paralympics, matching David Weir. Like the British wheelchair racer, the Russian-born American will be attempting to make it four with a marathon victory tomorrow.

With the 400m and 800m titles already in the bag, McFadden timed her strike to perfection in the 1500m. Hitting the front at the bell, the 23-year-old held off Edith Wolf of Switzerland in the home straight, prevailing by 0.36sec in 3min 36.42sec. Shelly Woods, the British world record holder, got boxed in at the bell and was never in the race for the medals, finishing sixth in 3:37.97.

If Weir has become the male track-and-field star of the Games, McFadden has become the female success story. She certainly has quite a story.

She was born in St Petersburg with spina bifida, her condition worsened by the fact that doctors took 21 days to operate on her. She was lucky to survive.

She spent the first six years of her life in a Russian orphanage that didn't have a wheelchair for her to use or even crayons to draw with. In 1994, Debbie McFadden, the commissioner of disabilities for the US Health Department, visited the orphanage and took a shine to the little girl she found crawling along the floor. All that Tatyana could say to her were the two words "Ya sama" – I, myself.

Mrs McFadden adopted Tatyana, taking her back to Baltimore, where doctors feared that the anaemic, severely underweight girl would not survive the year. Spurred on by her adoptive mother, little Tatyana proved them wrong.

Encouraged to become more active to build her strength, she found that competitive sport suited her natural fighting instincts.

She took part in wheelchair basketball, archery and swimming and became such a strong character she sued Maryland state for equal access to sport at her high school – and won. By the time she was 15, McFadden was the youngest athlete in the US Paralympic team in Athens in 2004.

She won a silver and a bronze in the Greek capital, and in 2008 in Beijing she earned three silvers and a bronze. In London in 2012 the 23-year-old has found her Midas touch with a vengeance – reward for a slavish work ethic in training at the University of Illinois that has earned her the sobriquet "The Beast".

McFadden is now a committed voice highlighting adoption issues. Last year she returned to her former home in St Petersburg – Orphanage 13. She gave the former director her gold medal from winning the New York City Marathon.

The marathon tomorrow is now Woods' last shot at glory, having failed to finish in the medal frame in her three track events. It was in the 2005 London Marathon that the Lancastrian made her breakthrough as a wheelchair racer. She was just 18 at the time and making her debut at the 26.2-mile marathon distance. She finished a close second to Francesca Porcellato of Italy, claiming the prized scalp of Tanni Grey-Thompson, a six-time winner of the event and a national sporting institution.

Seven years on, the 26-year-old from Lytham St Annes lines up in the Paralympic marathon just four months after a resounding victory on the streets of the English capital in the 2012 London Marathon. Woods crossed the finish line on The Mall in 1hr 49min 10sec – 3 min 56sec clear of her closest pursuer, Wakako Tsuchida of Japan.