ONE second – that is all that separated Kurt Fearnley from ending his Paralympic Games career with a gold medal in the men’s T54 marathon in Rio on Monday.
The Carcoar native launched a bold attack at the 10 kilometre mark of his pet event and the only man who was able to go with him was Swiss ace Marcel Hug.
In the final 200 metres Fearnley kicked and tried to out sprint his rival, but Hug showed why he has been nicknamed the ‘silver bullet’.
Hug responded and went on to win after one hour, 26 minutes and 16 seconds. Fearnley, who boasts 32 marathon career wins, crossed the line one second later.
The silver medal was Fearnley’s 13th time on the podium at a Paralympic Games, the 35-year-old having made his debut at this level at Sydney in 2000.
“As I crossed that line it symbolised about an hour and a half of being a bit delirious,” Fearnley said.
“That was a hard run, that was a fairly consistent effort and that last 100 metres I had a bit more left and give it to it, but Marcel just had too much on the day. I am happy with that silver though.”
With 17 members of his family watching on at Rio’s Fort Copacabana, Fearnley was hoping to add to his marathon gold medals from Athens and Beijing.
Given the quality of the field, Fearnley decided to attack early on and Hug went with him. Together they worked hard to gap their rivals.
"When we got a metre we decided to put the head down and, without saying a word with Marcel, we put the head down and made it five metres. One sneaky look back and all of a sudden it was a kilometre,” Fearnley said.
"We heard that the gap with the second group was growing more and more, and so we just worked together to come to the sprint together and then the faster would win.”
Behind that pair defending marathon champion, Great Britain’s David Weir, crashed and was forced to withdraw.
It meant that there was no real organised chase in the group of 11 behind Fearnley and Hug.
The leading duo took 41 minutes and 17 seconds to hit the halfway mark and at that stage the gap between themselves and the chasers stood at two minutes.
Five kilometres later they had increased that margin by 27 seconds and at the 30km mark, it was evident the gold medal would come down to a battle of two as Fearnley and Hug led by 2:49.
Knowing Hug, who had won gold in the 800m earlier in the Games, would have a good sprint, Fearnley needed to make a move.
He tried it 200m out from the line and while drawing up alongside Hug, his rival produced an acceleration he could not match. Third place belonged to Korea’s Dae Gyu Kim (1:30.08).
After the race, with his two-year-old son Harry in his lap, Fearnley reflected on his stellar Paralympic career.
He finished with three gold medals, seven silver and three bronze, while he holds the Paralympic Games record for the marathon and 5,000m.
“It's been an amazing run these last 16 years," Fearnley said. “I think I ran about 32nd in my Paralympic marathon back in Sydney. And I'm grateful for that start. That start is the thing that has given me the next 16 years to build on."