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Olympics/Paralympics

Wagner & Taylor claim gold in front of grand London crowd

September 6, 2012 09:48 AM
Team USA's David Wagner raises arms in triumph, capturing his third-career Paralympic gold medal.
The U.S. now owns their first gold at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, looking for more.
By Steve Goldberg, special to USTA.com

LONDON --
He tried hard to contain it but the impact of the moment was evident as Nick Taylor spoke to the media after he and David Wagner won their third consecutive gold medal,  6-2, 5-7, 6-2 in the Paralympic Quad doubles. In fact, they've won all of them as the Quad doubles were only introduced at the 2004 games in Athens.

"I knew this was going to be the hardest one yet," said Taylor, his eyes welling with the yin and yang emotion and release from the focus and determination of the match.

For the second time -- Athens was the other -- Peter Norfolk of Great Britain was on the other side of the net. This time he had a different partner, Andrew Lapthorne, on his side and all of Great Britain behind him but the result was still the same: Paralympic gold for the Americans.

It had all the drama that a final should. After winning handily in the first set 6-2, the Brits won the first point of the second and though they lost the game and the next one to go down 0-2, the roar of the decidedly biased crowd breathed life into the veteran Norfolk and the neophyte Lapthorne who would take the lead at 5-4. The Americans drew even at 5-5 but the Brits held on Lapthorne's serve and then broke through on Wagner's service 7-5 to force a deciding third set. What had looked like a quick path to the medal ceremony was suddenly extended and the chants of "U-S-A!" were challenged by those of "Team-G-B!", the nation's rallying cry over the several weeks.

Momentum had shifted but that didn't mean surrender by any means. Taylor said that they stayed consistent with what got them here, "keep positive and keep looking at each other after every point." Communication is a big part of their game and the two talk though every point.

When the Brits won the first game of the third set, it felt as though destiny might be taking sides with the vocal majority of the fans. That's not to say that Wagner and Taylor didn't have support. Their U.S. teammates and coaches were there, as well as more than a dozen friends and family. Wagner's contingent was clearly defined as they waved at least nine huge cardboard cutouts of his face with varied expressions throughout his matches here.

"This crowd was amazing," said Wagner after the final. He was appreciative of their enthusiasm even if it was biased against him and Taylor. "They understand tennis. It's an honor to be part of something so great.  They were supportive."

The big Wagner heads did little to fluster Norfolk and his sidekick as they fought back to even the games at 2-2. At this point though, the experience of two champions who wanted a third kicked in and they broke serve on Norfolk, who had only this final chance to win gold on home soil after losing in semifinal play to Shraga Weinberg the day before. 

But you can't have two storybook endings to the same tale and this one would have an American accent.

"We just did what no other Paralympic doubles team has been able to do," said a giddy Wagner. "This is very meaningful for me and Nick."

Partners today though become adversaries tomorrow when they face off in the second semifinal of the Quad singles. The Israeli partnership of Weinberg and Noam Gershony, the bronze medalists here in London, will do the same thing in the first semifinal.

So how are Taylor and Wagner as frenemies? "We're not," dismisses Taylor. "We are so used to playing each other."

The partners have faced off in singles main draw matches 67 times with Taylor taking just seven of them, the last in the 2006 US Open semifinal.

"We're like family," Taylor noted. "We know this is bound to happen and may the best man win. It's a good problem to have. We're both in medal contention."

Coach Dan James had set a goal of two medals from these London games and that is now set. Taylor summed it up: "No matter what happens, we are guaranteed a USA medal and a chance to play for another so we're ecstatic about that."
 

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