Daniel Romanchuk

One year to Tokyo: Ten U.S. Paralympic hopefuls to watch

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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.

MORE: How the Olympics, Paralympics intersected over time

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Daniel Romanchuk’s ascent to marathon stardom accelerated at University of Illinois

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The rise of Daniel Romanchuk has been one of the major stories of this Paralympic cycle. The wheelchair racer was eliminated in the first round of all five of his races in Rio.

But now, he’s the world’s best marathoner with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, a world-record holder on the track and already qualified for the Tokyo Games.

Romanchuk, born with spina bifida, was profiled by NBC Sports Chicago as part of a series of NBC Sports Regional Networks pieces published this week — marking 150 days until the Tokyo Olympics and six months until the Tokyo Paralympics.

NBC RSN Olympic and Paralympic Profiles
NBC Sports Bay Area

Abbey Weitzeil (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Boston
Margaret Bertasi (Rowing) — LINK
Abbey D’Agostino Cooper (Track and Field) — LINK

NBC Sports Chicago
Ryan Murphy (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Northwest
Galen Rupp (Marathon) — LINK
Mariel Zagunis (Fencing) — LINK

NBC Sports Philadelphia
Vashti Cunningham (Track and Field) — LINK
Julie Ertz (Soccer) — LINK

NBC Sports Washington
Katie Ledecky (Swimming) — LINK
Kyle Snyder (Wrestling) — LINK

Romanchuk, 21, swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon titles in 2019. He attributes that success to his native Baltimore and his training residence of the University of Illinois.

At age 2, he was enrolled in Baltimore’s Bennett Blazers, an adaptive sports program for children with physical disabilities. Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist who dominated women’s wheelchair marathons, planted her athletic roots there.

“Their motto is to teach kids they can before they’re told they can’t,” Romanchuk said.

Things really blossomed for Romanchuk after he moved from Baltimore to the University of Illinois. Illinois was designated a U.S. Paralympic training site in 2014 and has produced McFadden, Jean Driscoll and other U.S. Paralympic stars.

“Without this program, I certainly would not be where I am,” Romanchuk said. “It’s a very unique combination of coaching and teammates.”

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MORE: Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch for 2020 Tokyo Games

Athletes to watch in the World Para Track and Field Championships

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World championships and Paralympic berths will be at stake Nov. 7-15 at the World Para Track and Field Championships in Dubai.

The top four athletes in each event will win Paralympic qualification berths for their countries, with the exception that no athlete may earn a spot in more than one event.

Athletes are split into multiple classifications based on the type and level of impairment, and some disciplines offer many medal events. The men’s 100 meters will have 17 classifications — three for visual impairment (T11-T13), six for athletes with cerebral palsy or other coordination impairments (T33-T38), one for those with upper-limb impairment (T47), four for wheelchair athletes (T51-T54), two for runners with prosthetic legs (T63-T64), and one for the new world championship discipline of RaceRunning, in which athletes compete in three-wheeled devices similar to walkers. Other events include classifications for intellectual impairment (T20) or short stature (T40-T41).

Field event athletes are given “F” classifications rather than “T.”

One of the best-known wheelchair athletes in the world, Tatyana McFadden, will not be competing in Dubai, having just raced in the New York City Marathon. She has already qualified for the 2020 Paralympics in the marathon.

The athletes competing include the first autistic runner to break the four-minute mile, the daughter of a 1976 Olympic silver medalist, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering who holds multiple world records, and an athlete who posed in ESPN’s Body Issue.

Among the athletes to watch in Dubai:

VISUAL

David Brown (U.S., T11, 100 meters): 2016 Paralympic gold medalist and two-time defending world champion at 100. Runs with guide Jerome Avery. Also took silver in 2017 at 200, which won’t be contested this year. Holds world records at 100 (10.92) and 200 (22.41). Lost vision throughout his childhood due to Kawasaki disease and was blind by age 13.

Isaac Jean-Paul (U.S., T13, high jump): Set a still-standing high jump world record (2.17 meters) in the 2017 championships and took bronze in the long jump. Won the 2015 NCAA Division II national championship while competing at Lewis University. Placed 16th in the USA Track and Field Championships.

INTELLECTUAL

Mikey Brannigan (U.S., T20, 1,500): 2016 Paralympic gold medalist and two-time defending world champion at 1,500. Also won 800 and took silver in the 5,000 in 2017, but those two events will not be on the 2019 program. The first T20 athlete to break the four-minute mark in the mile. Holds the T20 world record at 1,500 (3:45.50) and 5,000 (14:09.51). Diagnosed with autism at an early age and was non-verbal until age 4.

Breanna Clark (U.S., T20, 400): 2016 Paralympic gold medalist and 2017 world champion. Set the 400 world record in the 2017 championships and lowered it to 55.99 seconds in 2018. Her mother, Rosalyn Clark, took silver in the 1976 Olympics in the 4×400 relay.

COORDINATION

Walid Ktila (Tunisia, T34, sprint/middle distance): Three-time defending four-event champion (100, 200, 400, 800), though this year’s championships will not include the 200. Also swept the 100 and 200 in the 2012 Paralympics and took another gold in the 100 and silver in the 800 in 2016. World record holder in the 100, 200 and 400.

Jaleen Roberts (U.S., T37, 100/200/long jump): Took three medals (long jump silver, 100 and 200 bronze) in 2017. Won all three of her events and a relay gold medal in the 2019 Parapan American Games.

UPPER BODY

Roderick Townsend (U.S., T46, 100/jumps): 2016 Paralympic gold medalist in high jump and long jump. Two-time defending world champion and world record holder in high jump.

Tobi Fawehinmi (U.S., T47, long jump): Won gold in the 2017 triple jump, which won’t be contested this year. Also took bronze in the long jump. Youngest man on the 2012 Paralympic team. Has underdeveloped left arm due to shoulder dystocia.

Deja Young (U.S., T47, 100/200): 2016 Paralympic gold medalist in 100 and 200. Defending world champion in both sprint events. Also took gold in the 100 and silver in the 200 in 2015. Ran track at Wichita State. Has limited mobility in right shoulder due to brachial plexus.

WHEELCHAIR

Cassie Mitchell (U.S., F52, discus/club throw): Set the discus world record (13.23 meters) in the 2017 championships, a mark that still stands as the record, and took silver in the shot put. Earned a college track scholarship upon graduating from high school in 1999 but then developed a neurological condition that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Made her Paralympic debut in 2012, then returned in 2016 to earn silver in the discus and bronze in the club throw. Also competed in swimming in 2016 and won two world championships in cycling in 2011. Holds F51 world record in discus and T52 records at every distance from 100 to 1,500. Assistant professor of biomedical engineering at a joint program between Georgia Tech and Emory.

Brent Lakatos (Canada, T53, sprint/middle distance): Swept the 100 through 800 in 2017 and won the 100 in the 2016 Paralympics. Like Ktila in the T34, he won’t have the opportunity to defend his 200 title, but he’s entered in the 100, 400 and 800 at T53 and will compete at T54 in the 1,500 and 5,000. Married to British Para athlete Stefanie Reid, who has been on reality TV in her home country. World record holder at every distance from 100 to 1,500.

Hannah McFadden (U.S., T54, 100/800): Younger sister of seven-time Paralympic gold medalist Tatyana McFadden. Youngest member of the 2012 Paralympics at age 16. Bronze medalist in the 100 and 200 in each of the last two world championships.

Daniel Romanchuk (U.S., T54, 800 and up): World champion in the marathon and already qualified for Tokyo in that event. In 2018, won Chicago Marathon and became first American man to win the New York City Marathon, also tying the record for youngest winner (20). In 2019, became the youngest winner (still 20) and first American man to win Boston Marathon since 1993. Also won 2019 London Marathon to clinch world title and defended title in Chicago, then won again in New York. World record holder in 800 and 5,000.

Susannah Scaroni (U.S., T54, 400 and up): Already qualified for Tokyo in the marathon, clinching her third Paralympic appearance in that event.

PROSTHETIC

Scout Bassett (U.S., T63, 100/long jump): 2016 Paralympian posed in ESPN’s Body Issue, where she shared her story of being adopted from a Chinese orphanage at age 7. Holds U.S. record in T42 100 and took bronze in both of her events in 2017.

Markus Rehm (Germany, T64, long jump): Was denied the opportunity to compete in the 2016 Olympics because organizers said he failed to prove that his prosthesis offered no advantage. Has won every Paralympic or world championship long jump competition since 2011. Also took gold in men’s 4×100 relay in 2016. World record holder with a leap of 8.48 meters, which would rank third on the list of 2019 performances among able-bodied jumpers.

The Olympic Channel will have coverage of the World Para Track and Field Championships starting at 10 a.m. ET Thursday and then every day of the championships (ending Nov. 15) at 9 a.m. ET.

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