Swimmer Mallory Weggemann sets second Paralympic record for second gold of Tokyo Games

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Mallory Weggemann started a streak of gold medals at the Tokyo Paralympics when she won the women’s 100m backstroke S7 on Monday evening.

The 32-year-old swimmer won in a time of 1:21.27, breaking the Paralympic record of 1:22.72 set in 2016 by China’s Ke Liting when she won gold.

In a close finish, all three medalists in Tokyo were below Ke’s record. Eighteen-year-old Canadian Danielle Dorris touched in 1:21.91 for her first Paralympic medal, followed by American Julia Gaffney in 1:22.02. Teammate McKenzie Coan, who won the 400m freestyle on Sunday, was fourth in 1:23.10.

Gaffney holds the world record of 1:19.47, set in 2019. This is her second Paralympic bronze; her first came in the 400m freestyle.

Weggemann, who became paralyzed from the waist down in 2008 following a series of epidural shots to treat shingles, made her Paralympic debut just four years later and won the 50m freestyle S8 at the London 2012 Games, where she was also on the 34-points medley relay team that took bronze.

Four years later, she had a disappointing performance in Rio, placing no higher than fifth in her seven races.

She made her return to the world championships stage in 2019 – after last appearing there in 2010, when she won eight individual golds and a silver – and won both the 50m freestyle and 50 butterfly, showing promise for a return to the Paralympic podium in Tokyo.

Weggemann won her first race of these Games, the 200m individual medley SM7, on Friday, breaking the Paralympic record during her heat. She had finished sixth in that race in London and fifth in Rio.

Her latest gold medal in the 100 backstroke is a marked improvement over her seventh place in 2012 and ninth in 2016, though she was second at the 2010 World Championships.

Weggemann still has the 100m freestyle S7, 50 freestyle S8 and 50 butterfly S7 ahead of her this week.

U.S. swimmers totaled seven medals on Monday, including gold from Hannah Aspden in the 100 backstroke S9. She missed the Paralympic record by four hundredths of a second.

Anastasia Pagonis, who last week was the first American to earn gold at these Games, took bronze in the 200m IM SM11 – a race where the top four finishers were below the world record.

Breaking the world record set by the Netherlands’ Liesette Bruinsma of 2:46.49 in 2019, China’s Ma Jia was golden in 2:42.14, followed by countrywoman Cai Liwen (2:42.91) and Pagonis (2:45.61).

Leanne Smith, a three-time 2019 World champion, won her first Paralympic medal with silver in the 100m freestyle S3. Three-time Paralympian Colleen Young had the best result of her career – a silver – in the 200 IM SM13. U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks was third in the 50 butterfly S6 for her second medal of the Games.

A full Paralympic Games broadcast schedule is available here. Events can also be streamed on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app, with more info available here.

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Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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