Track and Field at Invictus Games Orlando 2016 lived up to the hype, as a myriad nations pulled out strong performances on Sunday morning at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla.
The day started off with impressive showings on the track from the U.S. team, winning three of the first five races handily. The U.S. continued that success at Standing Discus and Shot Put, thanks to Sean Hook, whose family could be heard cheering him on from the stands.
Hook was confident he qualified for the medal rounds, but his motivation came from elsewhere. “I’m not in the Army anymore,” said Hook, “and now I’m here on a new mission. I’m here to represent the USA with fellow people I fought on the battlefield with.”
Potentially joining him in that next round is U.K. competitor Chris Macfadyen, who had a large contingent of British supporters on the rails of the track. He appeared optimistic after his performance at the seated shot put, despite it not being his primary sport.
“We threw okay, we can do better,” Macfadyen said, “but there’s a lot more left in the tank. [Today’s] just about trying to secure getting into the next round, and hopefully not injuring oneself.”
Immediately after Macfadyen’s performance, the French team made quite the splash thanks to a remarkable performance from Mickaél Courtois in the 1500M race. Leading start to finish, Courtois made it clear that his only goal was to qualify for the finals by coming in first or second place.
Courtois celebrated coming off the track, and was humble post-race. “It’s an honor to represent France on the track and in sport,” Courtois said via a translator, “but also to do it for all of the wounded warriors.”
Not all athletes were as excited with their displays, however, and it seemed a number of them wanted to work on their game a bit more. The Netherlands’ Kenny Bouman expressed a bit of angst after struggling a bit in the seated shot.
“In practice, [I was throwing] eight, eight and a half meters, but today my best was 7.08, which is not so good,” said Bouman. He didn’t leave discouraged, however, saying that he felt being at the Invictus Games remained an incredible experience and walked off speechless at being able to represent his homeland.
Kelly Whittle of New Zealand echoed that sentiment thoroughly after her round, noting that the nerves might have gotten the best of her early on. She had no complaints though, as she overcame some different conditions than where she practiced and focused in on her ultimate goal of a repeat medal opportunity.
“I was at the last London [Invictus] Games, and got silver in shotput and distance,” said Whittle, “and I was hoping to do the same here. We’ll see how it goes…I’m still happy with what I did here today.”
Estonia joined in on the action later in the session, and seemed to be one of the liveliest groups. While not outperforming some of their competitors, Ott Jõesaar and his teammates stayed in good spirits and cracked some jokes on the sideline.
“I didn’t throw as well as I expected,” Jõesaar said with a smile after his discus throws. “It feels great [to represent Estonians]; I just hope I didn’t embarrass them!”
Not too be outdone, the Australians perhaps brought more fun than anyone. The team was laughing and talking trash to their competitors in the last rounds of sitting discus and shot put, making for a light and fun atmosphere.
Australia’s Jimmy Olsen, enjoyed interacting with his U.S. counterparts, but really just couldn’t wait to find out if he qualified for the upcoming semifinals so he could improve even more.“Definitely need to work on my rotation,” Olsen said. “As it stands I’m already limited with my rotation, but it wasn’t comfortable as I was rotating through, so I think I just need to relax a little bit more and really go for the motions.”
The track and field preliminaries delivered a good amount of drama and action for spectators, and based on the competitive results, that should continue into the medal rounds which kick off Tuesday morning.