Team USA Shines Golden in the First Day of Para-Cycling Track Events at the Parapan American Games
by Heidi Ledermann
SANTIAGO, CHILE – Team USA captured gold in the first day of Para-cycling track events at the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 as Hannah Chadwick (El Cerrito, California) and her guide Skyler Espinoza (Freeport, Maine) shocked themselves when they qualified in second place behind Argentina for the women’s B 3000m individual pursuit event.
“It’s a really nice surprise – very unexpected,” said Chadwick. “It was definitely not in the plan to do this well.”
The women are “kilo” specialists, meaning that they have excelled best in the past in the 1-kilometer time trial. Today’s event was three times that distance, with a qualifying round in the morning followed by a medal match in the afternoon.
“We didn’t have any expectations going into today,” echoed Espinoza. “We’re definitely sprinters – this is not our event, so we’re feeling pretty psyched with that result.”
The women who previously won a bronze medal at the 2023 world championships in the sprint event qualified over five seconds behind Argentina’s team with a time of 3:56.122, which allowed them the opportunity to fight for either the gold or silver medal in the afternoon’s medal match.
“I think it’s a position we haven’t been in yet together as a team,” said Espinoza. “Fighting for gold feels different than fighting for bronze because if you walk away from the gold medal, you still have a silver versus walking away from the third/fourth match, you could walk away with nothing. It’s exciting to be in a new spot for us, and we’re moving on up.”
However, Chadwick said that knowing a medal was guaranteed did not take any pressure off the women to perform as well.
“I feel like there is more pressure now that we made it to the gold/silver match-up because we want the gold,” said Chadwick, “but I think we need to save our legs for tomorrow because that’s what we’ve been training for all year.”
Starting on opposite sides of the track, Team USA pushed off the start, looking to hunt down the Argentinians. Slowly, but surely, Chadwick and Espinoza closed the gap between the two teams.
“I could see the Argentinian bike,” Espinoza. “I didn’t tell Hannah because I didn’t want to jinx it or blow up a little bit, but I could see them ahead of us. I knew we were kind of ahead, but I feel like I am never quite sure until we cross that line.”
Though Espinoza didn’t clue her into how close they were to the Argentinian bikers, Chadwick was able to taste the gold based on the energy in the stadium.
“When people were cheering really loud,” said Chadwick, “I was like ‘that probably means we’re close, so don’t mess it up, keep going really hard, they’ll cheer some more and keep going really hard.’ That was my que to go for it.”
The work paid off as the women finished with a margin of 6.186 seconds over Argentina and a total time of 3:41.632.
The significance of winning the Parapan American Games, in their first appearance together in a Games environment, is still sinking in for the two riders.
“I think it’s exciting because this win is in a Games itself,” said Espinoza. “To be Parapan American champions is really exciting, and I think we need to congratulate ourselves for that moment.”
Despite already being able to return home with gold medals around their necks, both are looking forward to the opportunity to potentially add another medal tomorrow.
“I definitely think there’s more opportunity tomorrow too for a medal,” said Chadwick.
“We’re going to recover hard tonight and tomorrow morning and then we’ll be ready to go,” conferred Espinoza.
In another incredibly close long-distance event between Argentina and Team USA’s sprint specialists, Michael Stephens (Colorado Springs, Colorado) and guide Joe Christiansen (Lyons, Colorado) qualified for the bronze medal match in the men’s B 4000m individual pursuit.
“We did what we wanted to do,” said Stephens. “We came out here and qualified for a medal. We slotted in as best as we could. This isn’t an event we know how to do or really train for, but to walk home having had the opportunity to medal is wonderful.”
The men took a speedy start from the gun, quickly catching up to Argentina in the first couple laps. However, they were unable to pass the South American team, and by the fourth lap, the men realized that this event would not be decided in a sprint from the start. Team USA settled in for a long-distance race, but that is unfortunately where Argentina found their strength. Argentina made a full-force comeback, closing the gap and passing the United States with a few laps to go, thus ending the race for both teams. The U.S. men may not have walked away with a medal today, but they have high hopes for securing one tomorrow.
“Tomorrow is the big day,” said Christiansen. “Today was not something we expected but it’s exciting. It’s just awesome to be able to succeed at something we usually don’t succeed that much at.”
Competition resumes on Friday, Nov. 24 with another day of Para-cycling track events. All sessions will be streamed live on the Pan Am sports channel. Follow U.S. Paralympics Cycling on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates and results throughout the competition, which runs through Nov. 26.
For media requests and photo inquiries, please contact Heidi Ledermann at Heidi.Ledermann@usopc.org.
Team USA Medals – Nov. 23:
Hannah Chen & Skyler Espinoza – women’s B 3000m individual pursuit
Other Team USA Results:
Michael Stephens & Joe Christiansen – 4th, men’s B 4000m individual pursuit
Katie Wen Walker – 4th, women’s C1-5 500m individual time trial
Sam Bosco – 5th, women’s C1-5 500m individual time trial
Jamie Whitmore – 10th, women’s C1-5 500m individual time trial
Joe Berenyi – DNF, men’s C1-5 1000m individual time trial