Jessica Long, the most decorated active Paralympian, exceeded even her own expectations over an eight-day stint at the Tokyo Aquatics Center.
Long was already the second-most decorated U.S. Paralympian in history prior to Tokyo, having achieved that spot five years earlier in Rio, and this time she built upon her legacy to not only meet but surpass the number of Olympic medals won by that competition’s greatest athlete, Michael Phelps.
“I think it is the first time I realized I had nothing I had to do in the sport,” Long told On Her Turf.
The Baltimore native medaled in six of her seven races, bringing her career total to 29 Paralympic medals, one more than Phelps’ 28 but still far fewer than the 55 won by fellow U.S. Paralympic swimmer Trischa Zorn, the most decorated Paralympian of all time, across seven Games. The number of races offered per classification has decreased since Zorn’s Paralympic appearances (1980-2004), making it unlikely that number will be matched for quite some time, if ever.
Long’s career total – to date, as she has her sights on another Paralympics or two – includes 16 gold medals, eight silvers and five bronzes. Twenty four are from individual events, with five in relays.
Zorn’s longest Paralympic win streaks include five-peating in both the 100m backstroke and 200m individual medley for her classification (she was born legally blind).
Long, a double below-the-knee amputee, is close to matching that feat in the 200m IM SM8, earning her first four-peat of Paralympic gold medals in a single event in Tokyo. Having only entered freestyle events at her 2004 Paralympic debut – as a 12-year-old – Long has won the 200 IM every time she’s raced it at the Paralympics.
She did, however, reach a five-peat of medals in the 400m freestyle S8. Long’s tally in that race includes three golds and two silvers in the one race she’s competed at all five Games.
The 29-year-old also achieved four-peats in three more events: 100m backstroke S8 (two silvers, two bronzes), 100m breaststroke SB7 (gold, two silvers, bronze) and 100m butterfly S8 (three golds, one bronze).
Her individual haul in Tokyo included two golds (200 IM, 100 fly – with the latter coming on Friday, the final day of swimming competition), two silvers (100 breast, 400 free) and a bronze (100 back).
“Oh that was so fun,” Long told NBC reporter Heather Cox of the 100 fly, where she returned to the top of the podium after winning in Beijing and London before settling for bronze in Rio. “I got to race the younger Russian girl (16-year-old Viktoriya Ishchiulova), who came up to me yesterday and told me I’m her hero. This is really what it’s all about, bringing up the younger generation. That was a great race for her and for me, and that is exactly how I wanted to end it here in Tokyo.”
In the women’s 4x100m medley relay 34 points, Long won gold with Hannah Aspden, Mikaela Jenkins and Morgan Stickney for the U.S.’ first win in the event in 17 years; previously, Long’s only medal in the medley relay was bronze in 2012.
The only race where Long did not medal is the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay 34 points, where she, Natalie Sims, Stickney and Aspden did touch the wall first but were disqualified when it was ruled Stickney began her leg before Sims was through.
With two days of competition remaining in Tokyo, Long’s six medals are the most among all female competitors, tied for second-most of all athletes and two more than any other U.S. teammate.
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