Marcel “silver bullet” Hug cemented his place among the all-time great Paralympic athletes when he defended his T54 marathon title on Sunday for his fourth gold at Tokyo 2020.
The Swiss wheelchair master opened an early gap on the field with only silver medallist Zhang Yong able to stay in touch before Hug dropped the Chinese athlete over the last two uphill kilometres.
“I don’t know how to feel. I’m just tired. Empty,” said an exhausted Hug who captured the sixth Paralympics gold of his career on the final day of the Games.
“I made it. I don’t know how I made it, but I made it and it’s incredible.”
Hug finished in 1hr 24min 2sec. Zhang was 20 seconds behind for silver with Daniel Romanchuk of the United States a massive five minutes adrift for bronze.
Hug completed a golden sweep in all four T54 events he entered in Tokyo – 800m, 1,500m, 5,000m and the marathon.
“To be honest, I just hoped that I can make it to the stadium,” said Hug.
“I thought maybe I can go together with him in the stadium and then all out in the last lap. I was surprised that I could break away.”
By contrast, Madison de Rozario had just a second to spare as she clung on to win the women’s T54 marathon in a thrilling finish.
The Australian wheelchair racer entered the stadium with a slender lead over Swiss great Manuela Schaer, who took silver, with Nikita den Boer of the Netherlands in third.
“That was the longest 500 metres of my life,” a delighted de Rozario told reporters after finishing first in a Paralympic Games record 1:38.11.
“That finish line couldn’t have come quick enough.”
The 27-year-old was adding a second gold to her T53 800m title in Tokyo. She also took bronze in the T54 1,500m.
“I’m definitely, by no means, consistently the best so that was definitely a little bit of a surprise,” said De Rozario. “But I’m so proud of myself.”
‘That was a tough one’
Schaer was just a second behind the Australian as the Swiss took her third silver of the Games, having also won golds in the 400m and 800m.
“That was a tough one,” said Schaer. “I am so happy for her. She did work really hard and I am super glad it actually came down to the two of us.”
Veteran El Amin Chentouf of Morocco rolled back the years to defend his title in the T12 marathon for visually impaired athletes, smashing the Paralympic record by almost six minutes to finish in 2:21:43.
“I am the Eliud Kipchoge of the Paralympics,” said the 40-year-old Chentouf, referring to the Kenyan marathon great who retained his Olympic gold last month. “Marathon is based on experience and I have got the experience.”
China’s Li Chaoyan retained his title with a dominant run to finish first in the T46 marathon and world record holder Misato Michishita took gold for the host nation in the women’s T12 marathon.
But it was Hug’s remarkable fourth individual gold that made him the standout track and field athlete of the 2020 Paralympics.
Hug said the magnitude of his achievements still hadn’t sunk in.
“I really don’t know what it means to me at the moment,” he said.
“I hope at home I will have some time to really look back and realise what has happened. It’s just amazing.”
Hug’s “Silver bullet” nickname comes from the mirror finish to his helmet, but he said he had no plans to switch it to a golden one after his medal rush in Tokyo.
“I prefer the silver one,” he said.
“I prefer to have silver on my head and gold round my neck.”