Day 2 of the Tokyo Paralympics featured numerous medal events and team matchups Thursday, with the United States earning two golds in the pool thanks to thrilling, world record times clocked by a pair of teenagers, as well as group play victories in men's wheelchair rugby, men's and women's wheelchair basketball and men's goalball.
Below is a rundown of some of the key events that took place on the second day of the Games.
Seventeen-year-old Americans Anastasia Pagonis and Gia Pergolini each won their respective finals in world record-times to capture their first career Paralympic medals, both golds.
Pagonis, who had already taken down the all-time best at the U.S. Paralympic Trials in June, won the women's 400m freestyle S11 final in 4:54.49, beating her previous mark by nearly two seconds. Her gold medal was the United States' first of these Tokyo Paralympic Games, followed an hour later by Pergolini's.
In the prelims, Pagonis shattered the Paralympic record by about 12 seconds that had been set moments earlier in the first of two heats by Liesette Bruinsma of the Netherlands. The Long Island, New York, native started swimming at age 12 after losing her vision due to a genetic retina disease and autoimmune retinopathy.
Pergolini broke two-time world 100m backstroke S13 champion Carlotta Gilli's world record, set in May, during her prelim heat by nearly a second in 1:05.05, then shaved off about a half-second more in the final, clocking 1:04.64 to claim gold. Gilli, of Italy, took silver about a second and a half back in that race. A native of Georgia, Pergolini began swimming at 4 years old and despite being a multi-sport athlete decided to focus on the aquatic discipline after being diagnosed with Stargardt disease.
Pagonis and Pergolini are roommates and have spent a lot of time together over the past few weeks.
"We love each other so much, we treat each other like sisters and just [support] one another," Pergolini said Thursday after her race. "I remember waking up this morning and [Pagonis] was like, 'It's the day, Gia, you got this,' and I said, 'You got this, too.'"
In the women's 200m individual medley SM6, two-time world champion Maisie Summers-Newton of Great Britain reclaimed her world record in the final with gold after her previous all-time best from 2019 was taken down by Ukraine's& Yelyzaveta Mereshko during the prelims. American Sophia Herzog, who plans to retire after the Tokyo Games, took seventh in the final.
"I’m just at peace," the 2016 Paralympic silver and five-time world medalist said. "It’s really nice to be here representing my country, and 10 on the podium in my main event would be the cherry on top. Just to see the next generation coming up and being here is just absolutely incredible and I’m so proud to be here representing my country."
Canada gave the U.S. all it could handle in a tense wheelchair rugby prelim. The Americans edged past their North American rivals 58-54 in a match taken over by two of the sport’s greats. The USA’s Chuck Aoki and Canada’s Zak Madell matched each other try for try as Madell finished with 31, just ahead of Aoki’s 30. It was Aoki who received more help from teammates though, especially from Josh Wheeler, who found the try zone 14 times.
The match featured a slight fashion faux-pas as the first half featured Canada in black jerseys and the U.S. in very dark blue, difficult to tell apart. The Americans, down 28-27 at halftime, flipped to their white uniforms for the second half, which evidently paid off.
Having also defeated New Zealand Wednesday, the U.S. moved to 2-0 in pool play and is all but assured of a spot in the semifinal round. The top two teams from both groups will make up the final four.
The host nation is sitting comfortably in a similar position with two victories. Japan knocked off Denmark 60-51 and will likely get the chance to match or exceed its bronze medal result at Rio 2016.
The defending gold medalist U.S. men’s wheelchair basketball team got its Tokyo Paralympics started in the win column, but it was far from straightforward. Germany, letting loose from three-point range, took a six-point lead into halftime and continued to lead late into the fourth quarter. In the final three minutes Brian Bell scored four of his game-high 20 points to put the U.S. ahead for good, ultimately winning by a score of 54-51.
Bell, who has become one of the sport’s elite players after losing his right leg at 10 years old climbing on a train, praised the team’s resilience after the game. “This team is all about grit. We’re not going to back down from any challenge. I know everyone is going to give us our best game. They were shooting lights-out in the first half, we had to just kind of take that in stride and just chip away and work on our game.”
Germany fared better on the women’s side, downing Australia 77-58 behind 30 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists from Mareike Miller. As a teenager, Miller played able-bodied basketball and was an exciting young talent in the German ranks. However, four knee surgeries in the span of four years forced her to retire and transition to wheelchair basketball. She played collegiately in the United States at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, one of the top programs in the country, and led Germany to gold and silver medals at the two most recent Paralympic Games. She does not require a wheelchair for everyday activities.
Host nation Japan continued its winning start in women’s pool play, downing Great Britain 54-48 after beating Australia a day prior.
The U.S. women's team, Paralympic champion at three of the last four Games, earned its second win of group play in Tokyo, trouncing Spain 68-34. The Americans shot better than 50% from the field and had a 19-0 run between the third and fourth quarters. Rose Hollermann and Courtney Ryan scored 20 and 18 points, respectively.
In the rematch of a Rio 2016 semifinal, the United States defeated Brazil, 8-6, behind four goals from hard-throwing rookie Calahan Young. The Americans were gifted a 3-2 halftime lead when Brazil’s Josemarcio Sousa lost control of the ball on the backswing of his shot, sending it into his team’s own net in the closing seconds.
American Aaron Keith just missed the finals of the men's 3000m individual pursuit C1 with a fifth-place finish overall, losing out on a shot at the bronze medal by about a half-second in his Paralympic debut. The 50-year-old fractured his 12th thoracic vertebra in his early 20s while mountain biking with teammates in Virginia – at the time, he was among the state's best riders.
"Hopefully this spotlight draws attention to people who want to ride their bikes or compete, or both," said Keith, who learned about the Games shortly before 2012. "People with disabilities aren't afraid to come out and show what they're worth, show their abilities and compete on an even scale."
Meanwhile, U.S. teammate Chris Murphy improved on his eighth-place Rio time trial C4-5 finish from 2016 with fifth in Tokyo, about three tenths of a second short of the podium.
Beatrice de Lavalette of the U.S. and her horse Clarc, making their Paralympic debut, placed fifth in dressage individual test Grade II to advance to the freestyle. Their score, a 70.265%, is the first time a U.S. Para Dressage Team pair has ever broken 70 at the Games. At age 17, De Lavalette was the most critically injured survivor of the 2016 Brussels Airport terrorist bombing.
Later, her teammate Kate Shoemaker with horse Solitaer 40 scored a 70.854% in the dressage individual test Grade IV to also secure a freestyle spot in their Paralympic debut. Solitaer 40, a 14-year-old Hanoverian, has been with the Wellington, Florida, native for his entire international career – a total of 74 Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) starts.