Australian Paralympic runners Jaryd Clifford and Michael Roeger both set marathon world records in their respective para athletics classifications on Sunday at the Athletics Australia Tokyo Qualifying Marathon in Sydney. Clifford, a visually-impaired athlete competing in the T12 classification, set out with the original plan to simply pace Roeger, who competes as a T46 athlete, since he has a disability affecting his right arm. Clifford paced Roeger well, helping him to a new T46 world record of 2:18:53 before continuing on and completing the marathon himself and accidentally breaking the T12 world record after crossing the line in 2:19:08.
THEY HAVE DONE IT! 🎉🎉
Michael Roeger & Jaryd Clifford (Pace) have set new Para World Records.
Roeger – T46 WR – 2:18:53 (previously 2:19:33)
Clifford – T12 WR – 2:19:08 (previously 2:21:33)
(subject to ratification)
Congrats to athletes & coach Philo Saunders! pic.twitter.com/1SQgPzQOGt
— Athletics Australia (@AthsAust) April 24, 2021
As Clifford, who competed for Australia at the 2016 Paralympics, wrote on Instagram, his world record came as a shock for a number of reasons. He had never run a marathon before, and the plan was never to complete the race. Instead, he wanted to pace Roeger for as long as he could, and then he would bow out. At around 36K, though, Clifford said he realized he was going to stick in the race until the very end.
“It hurt like hell, but it’s a day I’ll never forget,” he wrote. He crossed the line just 15 seconds after Roeger (who has much more experience in the marathon), beating the world record of 2:21:33 by more than two minutes. After the race, Clifford spoke to Athletics Australia, noting that he would never have guessed that he could have run such a fast marathon.
“I think [Roeger] asked me at 15K how many laps I had left in me, and I think I said I had two,” Clifford said. “Then I had one more, and then another. I feel a bit silly upon reflection, but I think psychologically all I was doing throughout the race was focus on Roegs.” Clifford may be an accidental marathoner, but if he chooses to focus on the longer race (he primarily competes in the 1,500m and 5,000m, two events in which he won gold at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships), there’s no telling how quickly he could run.
While his result in Sydney would easily qualify him for the Tokyo Paralympics, Clifford told Athletics Australia that he still plans to focus on the track this year. He has broken the T12 1,500m world record on multiple occasions in 2021, with the most recent coming in March after he ran 3:41.34 at a race in Canberra. He hopes to win gold in Tokyo in both the 1,500m and 5,000m.
Roeger, however, is all in on the marathon, and he will be looking to win gold in Tokyo. He is the reigning T46 world champion in the marathon, and the world record (which stood at 2:19:33) that he broke on Sunday was his own. Since debuting at the marathon in 2018, Roeger has broken the T46 world record four times (although his first race, which he ran in Melbourne, was not ratified). He will be the heavy favourite heading into this summer’s Paralympics, and if he wins gold, he will add to his lone Paralympic medal from 2016, which was a bronze that he won in the 1,500m.