McFadden is entered in seven track and field events, a total of 12 races in 11 days traversing 58,195 meters (or 630 football fields). The wheelchair racer believes it’s possible to win them all. No American has bagged seven golds at a single Paralympics since 2004.
“It’s definitely going to be one of the greatest challenges I face in athletics,” said McFadden, a 27-year-old who swept the Boston, Chicago, London and New York City Marathons in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
McFadden is entered in the 100m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, 5000m, 4x400m relay and the marathon. Her first preliminary heat is Thursday night. Her last medal race in her trademark event, the marathon, is on the final day of the Games on Sept. 18.
“In the sprinting, most of those girls are really just focused on the 100m and 400m, so I know that I have a lot of work cut out for me,” McFadden said Tuesday.
McFadden’s back story is well-known in Paralympic and marathon circles. She was born in Russia paralyzed from the waist down due to spina bifida and adopted from a St. Petersburg orphanage at age 6.
The last American to win seven golds at a single Paralympics was swimmer Erin Popovich at Athens 2004. Most of the Americans to earn that many golds were swimmers. The only U.S. track athlete to do it was Bart Dodson at Barcelona 1992, according to International Paralympic Committee archives.
McFadden is already one of the Paralympic greats going into Rio, her fourth Games. She owns 10 Summer Paralympic medals dating to her debut at age 15 in 2004 and tacked on a cross-country skiing silver at the Sochi Winter Games in 2014.
McFadden showed her track versatility at the 2013 IPC World Championships, sweeping the 100m through the 5000m to become the first athlete to take six golds at a single worlds. That was in July 2013. Earlier that year, she won the Boston and London Marathons. Later that year, she won the Chicago and New York City Marathons.
McFadden skipped the 2015 IPC Worlds to focus on her marathon racing, so she hasn’t been tested in a global championship in three years.
McFadden is confident, though, and pointed to Canadian wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc, who swept the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m at the 2004 and 2008 Paralympics.
“If she can do it, I feel like I can do it as well,” McFadden said.
However, Petitclerc did not contest the 5000m 0r marathon at those Games.
If McFadden can even win six golds, it would be the largest haul by an American in Rio this year, topping the likes of Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles.
“Legends like Michael and Katie, and some of the U.S. girls, especially in gymnastics, too, they’ve made history,” McFadden said. “It would be honoring to be part of that history and part of that movement. I think it would also really, really help to grow the Paralympic sport as well, to show how dominant it is. Hopefully people will go wow.”