Brad Snyder

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Memorable Paralympic moments from 2010s decade

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NBCSports.com looks back at the 2010s this week. Here are 13 Paralympic moments that defined the decade …

Vancouver 2010: Lauren Woolstencroft sweeps standing Alpine golds
The Alberta native delighted the home crowd by winning all five standing races (by at least four seconds). Woolstencroft, later featured in a Super Bowl commercial, actually helped prepare the Vancouver Winter Games venues as an electrical engineer. She retired shortly after those Paralympics, her third.

London 2012: Jessica Long wins 5 swimming golds, 8 medals
Long, aiming for her fifth Paralympics next year, owns 23 Paralympic medals. Only retired swimmer Trischa Zorn has more among U.S. Paralympians with 55, most by any Paralympian ever. Long debuted at the Paralympics at age 12 in 2004 (winning three events), but her greatest success came at London 2012. She matched Michael Phelps‘ feat of eight medals at a single Games, including individual titles in freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly and individual medley.

London 2012: Brad Snyder’s gold on anniversary of battlefield injury
Snyder earned five swimming gold medals this decade, but we’ll focus on his second one, in the 400m freestyle on Sept. 7, 2012. It came one year to the day after the U.S. Navy officer stepped on an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan, resulting in complete blindness. “It’s not a poor anniversary,” Snyder said at the London Games, according to TeamUSA.org. “I’m really looking forward to celebrating how far myself and my family have been able to come over the past year.”

London 2012: Esther Vergeer wins 4th gold, 470th straight match
The Dutch wheelchair tennis legend made the Paralympics her last competition, bowing out at the London Games. She finished her career with 470 straight match wins dating to 2003 and 21 Grand Slam singles titles. Vergeer would say that her career highlight also came at the Paralympics, when she rallied from match point down in the Beijing 2008 final.

London 2012: Alex Zanardi, former CART champ, sweeps cycling events
Those who saw will never forget Zanardi’s open-wheel racing accident in 2001, when the Italian lost both of his legs and was read his last rites. Zanardi said he went 50 minutes with less than one liter of blood, and his heart stopped beating seven times. He lived. He turned to paracyling. He became a champion again, sweeping the road race and time trial in his Paralympic debut.

Sochi 2014: U.S. sweeps snowboarding’s Paralympic debut
Americans grew to dominate snowboarding at the Olympics. In the Paralympics, the U.S. began gobbling medals from the very start. Evan Strong, Michael Shea and Keith Gabel swept the medals in the sport’s debut, marking the first time the U.S. owned the podium in any Paralympic men’s event.

Sochi 2014: Ukraine participates amid Crimea situation
The night before the Opening Ceremony, the Ukrainian Paralympic team met for two hours to determine whether it would boycott the Games. Russian troops had moved into Crimea. “If we went back home, all we could do was lie on the sofa and watch the news about what was going on in the Crimea,” Ukraine Paralympic Committee President Valeriy Sushkevych said, according to the International Paralympic Committee. “Yet in Sochi, by taking part we could fight for peace for Ukraine on Russian territory.” Ukraine, which in a symbolic protest sent one athlete to the Opening Ceremony, finished second in total medals.

Rio 2016: U.S. sweeps triathlon’s Paralympic debut
Americans won the first two Paralympic women’s triathlon titles, including a medals sweep in one division with Allysa Seely, Hailey Danisewicz and Melissa Stockwell. For Stockwell, the event taking place on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks brought added meaning. Stockwell lost her leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004, becoming the first female U.S. soldier to lose a limb in active combat. She then became the first Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran to make Team USA. “When it got really tough out there I thought of those that gave the ultimate sacrifice and didn’t make it back,” she said, according to The Associated Press. “They pushed me to the finish — just wanting to give my thanks to them.”

Rio 2016: Tatyana McFadden sweeps 400m through 5000m
McFadden, perhaps the most well known U.S. Paralympian of the decade, hit her peak in the Rio Paralympic cycle. She won all six races between 100m and 5000m at the 2013 World Championships. She won a silver medal in cross-country skiing at the Sochi Winter Games. She swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon wheelchair races in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Then in Rio, McFadden nearly swept the board again: gold in the 400m through 5000m, adding silvers in the 100m and marathon.

Rio 2016: Marieke Vervoort competes after signing euthanasia papers
Vervoort earned four Paralympic track medals between 2012 and 2016, all after signing euthanasia papers so she could decide when to end her life. The Belgian competed in wheelchair racing with an incurable, degenerative spinal disease that limited her to 10 minutes of sleep on some nights. “You can go in peace when the time comes,” she told NBC Sports’ Lewis Johnson in Rio. “I don’t want to live like a plant that I need day-in, day-out [help].” Vervoort ended her life on Oct. 22.

Rio 2016: Iran wins men’s volleyball title with 8-foot player
Few athletes stood out at the Games like Morteza Mehrzad, an 8-foot, 1-inch player on Iran’s sitting volleyball team that struck gold. “I am not the whole team, I am only taller than the others,” Mehrzad said, according to the IPC, disliking the attention.The tallest person in his country, noticed by an Iran sitting volleyball coach while appearing on TV, led the team in scoring in the gold-medal match.

PyeongChang 2018: Oksana Masters powers through pain
A rower and a cyclist in the Summer Games, Masters made her mark most of all in cross-country skiing. In PyeongChang, she overcame a dislocated right elbow a week before the Games — and reinjuring it in a fall during the Paralympics — to win her first two gold medals at her fourth Games overall.

PyeongChang 2018: Declan Farmer’s golden goal
The decade started with an Olympic golden goal and ended with a Paralympic golden goal. Farmer, then a 20-year-old Princeton student, tied the Paralympic final with Canada with 37.8 seconds left, then potted the winner 3:30 into overtime. He led the U.S. to a third straight Paralympic hockey title, one year after 2014 Paralympic coach Jeff Sauer died of pancreatic cancer.

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BEST OF 2010s: Summer Olympians | Winter Olympians | Teams
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Two years to Tokyo: Five Paralympic storylines

Tatyana McFadden, Brad Snyder
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Five Paralympic storylines, two years until the Tokyo Opening Ceremony on Aug. 25, 2020 …

1. Can the U.S. close the gap on China?

While China evolved to become the U.S.’ biggest threat in the Summer Olympics the last two decades, it has come to dominate the Paralympics. The Chinese earned about twice as many medals as the second-place nation on average at the last four Games.

China has gapped the rest of the world in track and field and swimming, which have more than 300 medal events, or about 60 percent of the Paralympic program.

The U.S. was fourth in total medals in 2012 and 2016 and has not been in the top two since it hosted in Atlanta in 1996. There is a little hope. There are 15 fewer combined track and field and swimming events in Tokyo as there were in Rio. Two more medal events were added in triathlon, which debuted in Rio with the U.S. leading the sport’s medal standings.

2. Tatyana McFadden’s elusive title

One of the world’s most dominant athletes of the last half-decade still lacks one major title — Paralympic marathon champion.

Recall that in Rio, McFadden took silver in a photo finish after 26.2 miles. Shocking for a woman who swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon wheelchair races in 2013, 2014 and 2015, plus the 2016 Boston and London Marathons leading into Rio.

McFadden suddenly became beatable. She finished fourth at the 2017 Boston Marathon after multiple hospital visits and surgeries for blood clots in her legs. Her four-year win streak in New York City was snapped last year. She was runner-up at the London Marathon in April.

McFadden, who has 17 medals between the Summer and Winter Games, could also take aim at moving up the list of most decorated U.S. Paralympians. Trischa Zorn is out of reach with 55 medals, and No. 2 Jessica Long (23 medals) is still active. But McFadden could move as high as No. 3 with anything close to her medal hauls from 2012 or 2016.

Speaking of Long, she will be 28 years old come 2020, which would be her fifth Games. The Russian-born swimmer from Baltimore had a difficult 2016, battling through shoulder problems and waiting until her last race to earn gold in Rio. She came back with eight golds at the 2017 Worlds, which lacked some of the top international swimmers.

3. Big change for swim star Brad Snyder

Snyder, a 34-year-old who served with the U.S. Navy in Afghanistan, had one of the most successful Rio Games for an American — three gold medals, one silver medal and a world record in the pool.

He has since taken up triathlon. Snyder is not ruling out a return to swimming — he’ll make a decision by early 2020 on possibly doubling up — but it’s no longer his focus.

“When I finished in Rio, I wasn’t sure what the future would hold for me, and to be honest I was leaning towards retirement,” Snyder, who since Rio became a teacher at the U.S. Naval Academy, said in an email this week. “I needed a career shift, and a new set of challenges. … When I finished my able-bodied swimming career in 2006, I took up CrossFit and triathlon, so it was only natural for me to do the same post Rio.”

4. From the NFL to the Paralympics?

Former St. Louis Rams running back Isaiah Pead is a U.S. Paralympic hopeful. Pead, who lost his left leg after a November 2016 car accident, is training to be a 100m and 200m sprinter and possibly a long jumper. He’s also interested in sitting volleyball.

“I can’t make promises as to what I would run because I’m still learning how to run,” Pead said in an email this week. “I’m not sure when my official first race or what the meet will be because I’m trying to not look so far ahead, but I plan to definitely be ready to run by the beginning of the year.”

5. New names to watch

Particularly in track and field, first-time Paralympic hopefuls are poised to contend for medals. A few notables:

Stirley Jones, Track and Field: Jones competed in the 2016 Olympic Trials in the 200m after being diagnosed with Keratoconus in high school. Now the 33-year-old is ranked No. 2 in the world in his 100m classification, trailing only Jason Smyth, the Irishman who won the last three Paralympic titles.

Noah Malone, Track and Field: The Indiana high school junior already owns a 100m personal best that would have earned gold in Rio. Malone lost his vision in junior high school due to Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy.

Jillian Williams, Volleyball: The former teenage beauty pageant competitor was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma as a freshman volleyball player at Texas Lutheran and had her lower left leg amputated on July 7, 2016. Less than two years later, Williams made the U.S. sitting team for the world championship, where the Americans earned silver last month.

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MORE: 20 U.S. athletes to watch for Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky big winners at Team USA Awards

Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky
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Swimmers Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky were named the Male and Female Athletes of the Olympic Games at the Team USA Awards, which took place Wednesday evening at Georgetown University’s McDonough Arena in Washington, D.C.

Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, claimed six medals in Rio to increase his Olympic medal total to 28.

Ledecky broke two world records on her way to winning four golds and one silver in Rio.

Other winners included:

Team of the Olympic Games: Final Five (women’s gymnastics)

Female Athlete of the Paralympic Games: Tatyana McFadden (track and field)

Male Athlete of the Paralympic Games: Brad Snyder (swimming)

Team of the Paralympic Games: Women’s sitting volleyball

The show will air on NBCSN on Oct. 4 from 10-11 p.m. ET.

MORE: Best photos from red carpet of the Team USA Awards