Day 4 of the Tokyo Paralympics featured the first United States men's Olympic or Paralympic gold medal in triathlon and a 1-2 American repeat on the women's side; a four-peat victory in the pool for a 25th career Paralympic medal; a new wheelchair racing star and surprise runner-up finish on the track; Team USA's first Paralympic table tennis gold in 25 years; a triumphant wheelchair rugby Rio rematch victory that saw the defending champion fall; and so much more in a full course of competition in Japan.
Below is a rundown of some of the key events that took place on the fourth day of the Games.
Five years after finishing 1-2 at the Rio Paralympics, Americans Allysa Seely and Hailey Danz repeated the feat in Tokyo. Seely, who made an impressive charge late in the race to overtake her teammate, now has her second consecutive triathlon gold medal, while Danz has her second consecutive silver. Melissa Stockwell, who earned bronze in Rio as part of a U.S. podium sweep, finished fifth in this race.
Entering the race's final section, a 5km run, Seely found herself in fourth place and 1 minute, 26 seconds behind the leader, Danz. But Seely ran at a blistering pace during that final section and quickly began cutting into that gap. At the 3.75km mark, as she began her final lap, Seely had cut the lead to just six seconds. She soon passed Danz, her training partner, and continued on to win the race by 55 seconds.
"The run has always been my strength, and I know that there's always a little more to give when it comes to the run," Seely said after the race, smiling next to her teammate. "Even if I doubt myself for a second, I know I can keep going, and that's what I really had to dig in deep to today to push those final two laps and make up the amazing gap that [Danz] created."
Seely endured a lot of challenges in 2020, as she dealt with an infection in her leg and then a diagnosis of endocarditis (a life-threatening inflammation of the heart’s inner lining) as well as a blood clot in her heart. As a result, she spent a lot of time in the hospital and away from training. Those experiences made her latest victory all the more special—and all the more unlikely.
"I'm just so grateful for the opportunity to be here and to race," she said. "So many people thought it was impossible just eight months ago."
Also winning gold was Brad Snyder, whose decision to transition from swimming to triathlon paid off in a big way.
Snyder, a U.S. Navy veteran who lost his eyesight while serving in Afghanistan, dominated the men's race held for athletes with vision impairments (men's PTVI). Along with guide Greg Billington, a 2016 triathlon Olympian, he unsurprisingly built a large lead during the swimming portion of the race, but then proceeded to hold that lead throughout the cycling and running segments, ultimately winning by 55 seconds.
It's the sixth gold medal and eighth medal overall in Snyder's Paralympic career. His previous medals all came in swimming, but in 2018 he announced that he would be switching to triathlon.
"We watched 'Cool Runnings' yesterday, and John Candy said, 'If you make your life about winning, that's all you can do.' And my life's not about winning, it's about taking on new challenges," Snyder said after the race. "When I finished [swimming] in Rio—that crowd, that record, that feeling—I didn't know how to top that. But I don't want to be done—I like this loop, I like taking on challenges, I like learning new things, I like pushing myself. And triathlon gave me that in spades."
It wasn't an easy challenge—"I was not that good [at triathlon] when we started, I was not that good eight weeks ago!" he admitted—but Snyder was clearly pleased with the end result.
American Jessica Long won her 25th career Paralympic medal with a fourth straight gold in the 200m individual medley SM8. Her time, 2:41.49, wasn't the fastest of the four titles but still beat the next finisher by nearly six and a half seconds. Notably absent from the race due to a classification issue was Great Britain's Brock Whiston, the world record-holder who dethroned Long and her bid for a sixth straight world title in 2019. Teammate Haven Shepherd, 18, who was injured in but miraculously survived a family tragedy as an infant, took a respectable fifth place.
Long, who in addition to Saturday's IM gold already claimed bronze Friday in the 100m backstroke S8, has three remaining events on her Tokyo schedule: the 400m freestyle S8 (silver in Rio) on Tuesday, 100m breaststroke SB7 (silver in Rio) Wednesday and 100m butterfly S8 (bronze in Rio) Friday.
The 29-year-old was born in Russia with fibular hemimelia and adopted from a Serbian orphanage by an American family at 13 months old. Her legs were amputated below the knees five months later. She grew up in Baltimore and learned how to swim in her grandparents' pool, and at just 12 years old won three Paralympic gold medals in Athens.
In what's expected to be her last Paralympics before retiring, American Sophia Herzog earned bronze in the women's 100m breaststroke SB6 in 1:36.06, adding to her silver from Rio in the event. Herzog finished seventh in the 200m IM SM6 on Thursday, an event in which she was the runner-up at 2017 worlds. Her last event in Tokyo is Monday's 50m butterfly S6.
Herzog is a native of Colorado. Last year, while pools were closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, she swam in the Arkansas River. She also decided to move west to Salida and prepare for retirement after 12 years of competing in the sport. Herzog said it's time to give her body a break and is looking forward to exploring other passions outside of swimming.
Track & Field
A new wheelchair racing star may have been born in Tokyo as Team USA's Susannah Scaroni pulled away from the competition and dominated the women's 5000m T54 final. Scaroni, who won the race by about eight seconds, smashed the Paralympic record held by teammate Tatyana McFadden and came within two seconds of taking down the world record as well. Although Scaroni has competed at each of the last two Paralympics, this is the first medal she's ever won. But with three events left on her schedule in Tokyo (800m, 1500m and marathon), it might not be the last one she wins at these Games. McFadden finished third to earn her 18th career Paralympic medal. The training partners' gold and bronze give USA its first track double podium in Tokyo.
"I looked back and nobody was there. With seven laps to go, it was a huge risk, but I knew my strength and I took that risk," Scaroni said after the race. "“I have beaten [McFadden] a few times in the past few years, but never at the Paralympics, and that is when people bring out everything they have. I’m so proud of her. We know each other’s strengths."
Eighteen-year-old American Liza Corso took home silver in her Paralympic debut with a runner-up finish in the women's 1500m T13 final. After clocking the slowest overall qualifying time of the prelims Friday, the southeast New Hampshire native stuck to the front pack in Saturday's final through the first couple laps before unleashing a marvelous kick in the last 250 meters, passing three competitors including defending champion Somaya Bousaid of Tunisia to finish in a personal-best 4:30.67. Race winner Tigist Gezahagn Menigstu's seven-second victory earned Ethiopia its first-ever Paralympic gold medal. Corso, who has vision impairment, competed in able-bodied cross-country at Portsmouth Christian Academy and is set to attend Nashville, Tennessee's Lipscomb University this fall, where she'll start her first seasons of Division I cross-country and track and field.
American Daniel Romanchuk took fourth in the men's 5000m T54, missing the podium by less than two-hundredths of a second in the first final of his Paralympic career. He'll have plenty of other chances to capture a medal as he competes in five other events over the next week — the 400m Sunday, 1500m Monday through Tuesday, 100m Wednesday, 800m Thursday and marathon next Sunday. Also making his Games debut, 16-year-old Ezra Frech of the U.S. took eighth in the men's long jump T63, followed in 10th by teammate Regas Woods.
New Zealander and reigning world shot put F37 champion Lisa Adams, world record-holder and sister of the most decorated women's Olympic shot putter of all time Valerie Adams, captured gold by launching 15.04m and two 15.12m marks on her last three attempts. Adams, who has cerebral palsy, is the first woman F37 to break the 15-meter barrier at the Games.
"To have [Valerie Adams] coaching me, and trying to absorb everything I can from her, I’ll cherish it forever," Lisa Adams said after the final. "Getting to hug her straight after the competition was so emotional, but embracing her was so special to me."
In other events Saturday:
- Rio Paralympic 100m T38 champion Sophie Hahn of Great Britain equaled her own 12.38 world record in the prelims before defending her gold in the final in 12.43
- The Netherlands' Fleur Jong set a world record for the third time in four months, bettering her 6.09m in June with a 6.16m first attempt to claim long jump T64 gold
- Liu Cuiqing of China defended her 400m T11 title from Rio by lowering her own Paralympic record from those Games to 56.25
- Spaniard Kim Lopez took down his own shot put F12 world record from June with a 17.04m to repeat his Rio gold and beat reigning world champion Roman Danyliuk of Ukraine
- China's Li Liu, who took up throwing just five years ago, obliterated the men's club throw F32 world record from 2016 by more than eight meters, besting it three times for gold
Ian Seidenfeld won the United States its first Paralympic table tennis gold since the 1996 Atlanta Games, defeating reigning European champion Paul Karabardak of Great Britain 3-0 during the semifinals earlier in the day and defending gold medalist and reigning world champion Peter Rosenmeier of Denmark 3-0 in the men's singles C6 final. Rosenmeier, who also won gold at the 2008 Beijing Games, was unconquered in Tokyo headed into the final and had previously beat Seidenfeld 3-2 in their first group-play match of the tournament. Seidenfeld's gold and teammate Jenson Van Emburgh's bronze in singles C3 end a three-Games table tennis medal drought for Team USA, which last made the podium in 2004 with Tahl Leibovitz's bronze.
The last U.S. players to win gold were Leibovitz and Jennifer Johnson, who won men's singles 7 and women's singles 4 titles, respectively, in Atlanta. At those same Games, Ian's father Mitchell Seidenfeld, the 1992 Paralympic champion, won silver. Mitchell was in attendance Saturday for Ian's match and the two shared a heartwarming hug after the match.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz congratulated Seidenfeld in a tweet.
In a rematch of the 2016 Rio final, the United States wheelchair rugby team secured a return to the gold-medal decider with a 49-42 semifinal victory against two-time defending Paralympic champion Australia, extending its undefeated streak in Tokyo to four matches. The berth opens up a second straight opportunity to capture its first title since the 2008 Beijing Games.
Chuck Aoki once again dominated, leading the U.S. in tries with 27, his second-best performance of these Games after a 30-try group play match against Canada. The Minneapolis native now has 91 total tries in Tokyo headed into the final match. Australian captain Ryley Batt – who as a child was reluctant to use a wheelchair until shortly after attending a wheelchair rugby clinic at his school – led his team with 25 tries, his fourth match with 24 or more.
The U.S. will play Great Britain in the gold medal match Sunday after the Brits stunned reigning world champions Japan 55-49 in the other semifinal. The game remained close throughout the first half, but then Great Britain, playing with fast speed and a strong defense, took control in the third quarter. Aided by a technical-foul call that forced Japan to play a man down for 60 seconds, Great Britain outscored its opponent 17-10 in the quarter to build an insurmountable lead. Jim Roberts scored 20 tries to lead the British team in scoring.
Japan, which did not lose a single game during the group stage, will play Australia in Sunday's bronze medal match.
The U.S. women's wheelchair basketball team dropped to 1-2 in group play after China rallied to beat the Americans 42-41. China struggled to score in the first half and trailed Team USA 21-7 at halftime, but the Chinese team turned things around in the second half and took the lead with 2:18 left in the fourth quarter. The game ended on a confusing sequence in which the United States, trailing by three points (42-39), had the last possession but opted to score a two-point basket as time expired instead of attempting a three-pointer that would have tied the game. Lindsey Zurbrugg (15 points) and Courtney Ryan (14 points, nine rebounds, six assists) led Team USA in scoring.
Meanwhile the U.S. men's team suffered its first defeat of the tournament, losing by one point to Great Britain in group play. The Brits, who also move to 2-1, started slow but solidified a lead late in the first quarter and maintained it throughout most of the game. A fourth-quarter surge by the Americans brought it close within the final minutes, but Great Britain prevailed 64-63. Jacob Williams' 19 points led the U.S., while Great Britain spread the wealth with four different players over 10 apiece – Gaz Choudhry and Lee Manning, who had 14 boards, each had 12 points.
A low-scoring game between the United States and Japan resulted in the U.S. women getting their first loss of the Paralympic tournament. Amanda Dennis was able to score twice for Team USA, but both teams found it hard to get balls past the opposition defense, and Japan escaped with a narrow 3-2 win. The U.S. women now have two wins and one loss in the group stage, and they'll play Turkey on Monday in their final game before the knockout rounds begin.
The U.S. women's sitting volleyball team kicked off its Paralympic title defense with a win over Rwanda. The Americans, ranked No. 1 in the world, won in straight sets (25-11, 25-9, 25-11) and will now have a day off before facing China in their second match. That one will be a rematch of the 2016 gold medal match.