Ten U.S. Paralympic hopefuls to watch, one year out from the Tokyo Games Opening Ceremony …
Chuck Aoki (Wheelchair Rugby)
The U.S.’ top scorer, but still looking for a Paralympic title after bronze and silver medals in 2012 and 2016. Aoki’s father’s family is from Japan, immigrating to the U.S. in the early 1900s. His great-grandparents and grandparents were placed in World War II internment camps. Aoki switched from wheelchair basketball to rugby after seeing the 2005 Oscar-nominated documentary “Murderball.” He has been on the national team since 2009.
David Brown (Track and Field)
In six years with guide runner Jerome Avery, Brown won the Rio Paralympic 100m title, two world 100m titles and became the first totally blind athlete to break 11 seconds in the sprint. The pandemic forced the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., to close in March, leading to the longest stretch (months) that Brown and Avery have been apart since they partnered up in 2014.
Jessica Long (Swimming)
The second-most decorated U.S. Paralympian in history with 23 medals. While Long can’t catch Trischa Zorn‘s record 55 medals in Tokyo, she can improve on what she called a “disappointing” performance in Rio, where she still earned six medals. Long, who made her Paralympic debut in 2004 at age 12, then earned eight world titles in 2017 and six more medals at 2019 Worlds.
Oksana Masters (Cycling)
Already a Paralympic rowing and Nordic skiing medalist, Masters bids for a second Games to add a road cycling medal to her haul. In Rio, she placed fourth in the road race and fifth in the time trial. At her last Paralympics in PyeongChang, Masters came back from a fractured right elbow to earn five medals, including two golds.
Tatyana McFadden (Track and Field)
Earned medals in all six individual races from 100m through the marathon in Rio and eyes the same schedule in Tokyo. McFadden, a 17-time medalist between the Summer and Winter Games, also swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon wheelchair divisions in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Last year, Swiss Manuela Schar relegated McFadden to runner-up in all five of McFadden’s major marathon starts, and McFadden did not compete at the world championships on the track, which took place one week after the New York City Marathon.
Evan Medell (Taekwondo)
The U.S. has a medal contender in taekwondo, which debuted as an Olympic medal sport in 2000 and is on the Paralympic program for the first time in Tokyo. Medell, a 23-year-old licensed diesel mechanic, is ranked No. 1 in the world in the K44 +75kg division after 2019 titles at the European and Parapan American Championships.
Becca Meyers (Swimming)
Earned three golds and one silver in individual events at the Rio Games, plus broke three world records. Meyers followed that with medals across three different strokes (plus the individual medley) between the 2017 and 2019 World Championships. She has trained at both the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and the Nation’s Capital Swim Club, which produced Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, respectively.
Allysa Seely (Triathlon)
Led a U.S. medals sweep in her classification in triathlon’s Paralympic debut in Rio. Followed with world championships medals in 2017 (silver), 2018 (gold in an undefeated season) and 2019 (silver). The U.S. team could also include Melissa Stockwell, the first female soldier to lose a limb in the Iraq War, who took bronze in Rio. And Brad Snyder, a triple gold medalist in swimming in Rio who then took up triathlon.
Steve Serio (Wheelchair Basketball)
Three-time Paralympian co-captained the U.S. men to their first gold in 28 years in Rio. He neared triple-doubles in the quarterfinals, semifinals and the final win over Spain. Serio made the tournament all-star team at 2018 Worlds, where the U.S. fell to Great Britain in the gold-medal game.
Ben Thompson (Archery)
Upset the world No. 1 compound archer to win the world title in 2019. Ended the season with a No. 1 world ranking and Male Paralympic Athlete of the Year from the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. Thompson competed in recent years with sister-in-law Megan‘s name on his arrow wraps. Megan fought breast cancer for years before her death in November as he was en route to the Team USA Awards.
Note: Portions of this post were previously published on Feb. 24, six months out from the original Paralympic Opening Ceremony before the postponement to 2021.
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