By Griffin O’Hara
SOFIA, Bulgaria – As they walked up to the starting blocks for the men’s 100m, Americans DeWayne Esper and Joshua Hembrough made an odd pair. Hembrough towered over everyone else, while Esper, more than a foot shorter, had led the pack in his semifinal.
By the end of the sprint, Esper had a silver and a world junior record; Hembrough, a bronze; and for the first time in Deaflympics history, all three medalists had sprinted the 100m in less than 10.9 seconds.
“All [of this year’s athletes] have raw talent,” sprint coach Rohan Smith said.
Ukranian runner Mykola Nosenko won the race in a blistering 10.65 seconds, just 0.03 off American Wendell Gaskin’s Deaflympic record set in 1997. Esper ran a 10.87, and Hembrough tied for bronze with Cuban Erlis William Gil Larrudert in 10.88.
In the 400m finals, Delvin Furlough faced an obstacle to defending his gold medal: an unfavorable lane position. From Lane 7, Furlough struggled to see other runners coming from behind and was overtaken in the final 50 meters by Sergiy Mazuro of Ukraine.
Mazuro won gold in 47.87, while Furlough took silver in 48.11.
In the women’s 100m finals, the U.S.’s Shanieka Coleman ran a solid race but was unable to catch gold medalist Suslaidy Girat Rivero of Cuba, who set a deaf world record of 11.71 seconds. Coleman finished eighth.
American pole-vaulter Thomas Guidon narrowly missed a medal.
Guidon completed a vault of 4.5m but missed a 4.6m vault on his third attempt. Dmitriy Kochkarov won gold with a vault of 4.7m.
Smith said the American finishes were especially impressive, given that the athletes have to raise all the funding themselves for training and competition.
“I’m still awed by those athletes,” Smith said. “The reason: World champions get paid for their performance, but the (the U.S. Team) divide their time.”