Canadian wheelchair sprinter Michelle Stilwell defends Paralympic title【Canada】

Michelle Stilwell didn't wear the black skull cap to make a fashion statement.

The wheelchair sprinter from Nanoose Bay, B.C., discovered via wind tunnel testing in Ottawa earlier this year that covering her head made her more aerodynamic in her chair.

The new headgear paid off. Stilwell defended her Paralympic gold medal in the women's 200 metres in 33.80 seconds Saturday in London. She shattered her Games record by over two seconds. The 38-year-old will go for a double dose of gold when she races the 100 metres Wednesday.

Her eyes shrouded behind dark glasses and her hair pulled back in a ponytail under the cap, Stilwell edged Belgium's Marieke Vervoort by three tenths of a second at Olympic Stadium.


"Even if it's just hundredths of a second it saves me, honestly I should have had it in a bun tucked in, but I wanted people to know that I actually have hair," an elated Stilwell said following her race.

Stilwell is quadriplegic and races in the T52 classification. Wearing a cap in a race for the first time in her career was just one item in the life blitz Stilwell conducted in her bid to stand atop the Paralympic podium again.



Her diet, race chair setup, clothing and training location were all overhauled.

"Every little detail, we've worked at it," Stilwell said. "It's an incredible training plan that Peter [Lawless] my coach and I came up with. Obviously it worked."

Canada had eight medals, including three gold, after three days of Paralympic competition in London.


Valerie Grand'Maison of Fleurimont, Que., earned a silver medal in women's 50 freestyle Saturday. The visually impaired swimmer won three gold medals at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. Grand'Maison will also race the 100 freestyle, 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke in London.

Canada's objective in London is to finish top eight in the gold-medal count. With three, the Canadian team was tied for 10th with Germany, Cuba and Iran. China led all countries with 19 gold.


Stilwell, her husband Mark and their 11-year-old son Kai moved to Australia for three months over the winter so Stilwell could get quality training prior to London. Mark quit his job in computer programming so he could home-school Kai, who is autistic, while his wife trained in Australia.

"It was a huge sacrifice we've all made to make it happen," she said.

Stilwell and her husband planned a quiet, belated celebration of their 15th wedding anniversary, which was Friday, following her race. No champagne, just water with lemon.


"I'm going to go spend the evening with my family," she said. "I'm going to stay out of the village tonight and have some relaxing time, come back in around noon tomorrow and refocus and get set for Wednesday night."


2012.9.1 CBC Sports