U.S. ends Tokyo Paralympics with best gold-medal rank in 13 years and bevy of highlights

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Day Eleven
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While China won both the total- and gold-medal counts for the fifth summer Paralympic Games running, the United States had its own top-three finish worth celebrating in Tokyo.

The U.S. contingent was third in the race for most golds, its highest finish in that category since Beijing 2008. Since leading both the total and gold medals when it hosted the Games in Atlanta 25 years ago, the Americans’ best summer Paralympic finishes had been third in the total rank in 2000 and third in both categories in 2008.

When the Games ended Sunday, the top five countries on the total medal table were China (207), Great Britain (124), Russian Paralympic Committee (118), the U.S. (104) and Ukraine (98). China’s tally for golds was 96, followed by Great Britain (41), the U.S. (37), Russian Paralympic Committee (36) and the Netherlands (25).

The U.S. took home medals in 15 of the 19 sports it entered for its most diverse share of medals in 17 years, including its first medals in canoe and taekwondo.

Jessica Long, already the country’s second-most decorated Paralympian and the world’s most decorated active Paralympian at age 29, left Tokyo as the most successful woman at the Games among all nations. Her six medals in swimming (bringing her career total to 29) were two greater than any other American.

Making his Paralympic debut, sprinter Nick Mayhugh led the U.S. men with four medals, three of which were gold. The 25-year-old set worlds records in the 100m T37, 200m T37 and 4x100m universal relay, plus an American record for his silver-medal performance in the 400m T37.

Seven Americans – Noah Malone (track and field), Elizabeth Marks (swimming), Raymond Martin (track and field), Brittni Mason (track and field), Tatyana McFadden (track and field), Roxanne Trunnell (equestrian), Mallory Weggemann (swimming) – followed with three medals apiece. Seventeen more U.S. athlete earned two medals in Tokyo.

Winning a medal of each color, McFadden reached her 20th Paralympic medal at her sixth Games.

Cheri Madsen, Oksana Masters and Martin all reached the double-digit mark in career Paralympic medals. Madsen has two golds, five silvers and three bronzes in track and field from the 1996, 2000, 2016 and 2020 Games. Martin has seven golds and three silvers on the track, earned at the past three Games. Masters medaled in her fourth sport and now counts four golds, three silvers and three bronzes from the past five Games in biathlon, cross-country skiing, cycling and rowing.

Kendall Gretsch became the third U.S. woman, and fifth American total, to win gold at both the summer and winter Paralympics. She added triathlon PTWC victory to her biathlon and cross-country skiing wins from PyeongChang 2018. Masters added her name to that list two days later with time trial H4-5 gold, then took road race H5 gold the following day.

Brad Snyder also won gold in his second sport. The Navy veteran added a triathlon PTVI win to his seven swimming medals from London and Rio. His is the first U.S. men’s Paralympic triathlon medal.

Other U.S. highlights from the Tokyo Games include:

  • Women accounted for 61.5% of total U.S. medals and 62% of U.S. gold medals.
  • With Ian Seidenfeld’s gold in men’s singles Class 6 and Jenson Van Emburgh’s bronze in men’s singles Class 3, the U.S. won its first table tennis medals since 2004, had its best result in the sport since 1996 and also earned its most medals in the sport in that long. Coincidentally, Seidenfeld’s father, Mitchell, won two of the U.S.’ five Paralympic table tennis medals in 1996.
  • Blake Haxton, a 2016 Paralympic rower, competed in both rowing and canoe sprint in Tokyo and earned silver in va’a 200m VL2 for the first Paralympic canoe medal by an American; the sport debuted in Rio.
  • Evan Medell took bronze in his sport’s Paralympic debut in men’s +75kg K44 for the country’s first taekwondo medal.
  • Cyclist Alicia Dana was the oldest U.S. medalist in Tokyo, with road race H1-4 and mixed team relay H1-5 bronzes at age 58.
  • Led by Trunnell, the U.S. equestrian team won its first medal in 17 years, first gold in 25 years, most medals in 25 years and first dressage team medal. Trunnell is now tied for the most decorated and winningest U.S. Para equestrian.
  • With golds from Gretsch, Snyder and now two-time champion Allysa Seely, the U.S. triathlon team led its sport in most medals (five) and most golds (three).
  • The women’s sitting volleyball and men’s wheelchair basketball teams successfully defended their gold medals from Rio, while U.S. teams also medaled in women’s goalball (silver), women’s wheelchair basketball (bronze) and wheelchair rugby (silver).
  • Five world records (Breanna Clark – 400m T20; Mayhugh – 100m T37, 200m T37; Roderick Townsend – high jump T47; Malone/Mason/Mayhugh/McFadden – universal relay), seven more American records (Hagan Landry – shot put F41; Malone – 400m T12; Martin – 1500m T52; Mayhugh – 400m T37; Trenten Merrill – long jump T64; Cassie Mitchell – club throw F51; Jaleen Roberts – 100m T37) and a Paralympic record (Susannah Scaroni – 5000m T54) were set by Americans in track and field.
  • The U.S. set four world records in swimming – Robert Griswold (100m backstroke S8), Marks (100m backstroke S6), Anastasia Pagonis (400m freestyle S11), Gia Pergolini (100m backstroke S13), plus an additional Paralympic record by Weggemann in the 100m backstroke S7.
  • Nearly 39.5% of the U.S. medals came in track and field (41 total) and 33.65% were won in swimming (35 total).

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Who is China’s greatest Olympian?

Yang Wei
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China largely didn’t compete at the Olympics before 1980, but it didn’t take long to become a medal power. The Chinese finished second to the U.S. in total medals at the last three Summer Games and had the most golds in Beijing in 2008. China has been consistent at recent Winter Games, earning an average of 10 medals over the last two decades and building enough of a reputation to earn hosting rights in 2022. Here are five of the nation’s greatest Olympians …

Fu Mingxia
Diving
Four Olympic gold medals

A world champion at age 12. An Olympic champion at age 13. Fu was the dominant female diver of the 1990s, sweeping the springboard and platform at the 1996 Atlanta Games and winning one more of each between 1992 and 2000. China has become the dominant diving nation, though still with half the total Olympic medals of the U.S. in the sport. The Chinese boast other legends, such as Guo Jingjing, Chen Ruolin and Xiong Ni, but none combined the versatility and length of dominance quite like Fu. She retired for the first time at age 18, believing she was too old for the sport, and again after her last Olympics at 22.

Lin Dan
Badminton
Two Olympic gold medals

China owns twice as many medals as any other nation in badminton, which debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Ten badminton players share the record of two gold medals. Nine of them are Chinese. Two of them earned two individual golds — Lin and Zhang Ning. The tiebreaker goes to Lin for his five individual world titles to Zhang’s one. “Super Dan,” who competed at the last four Olympics, won the sport’s Super Grand Slam, capturing its nine major titles. Lin’s fame: In 2015, he was the second athlete on Forbes China‘s most popular celebrities list behind tennis player Li Na. He had his own wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Shanghai. Lin’s outbursts on and off the court led to some calling him the John McEnroe of badminton.

Wang Meng
Short Track Speed Skating
Four Olympic gold medals

Also known for volatility. Wang is the lone Winter Olympian on this list and owns the national records for Winter Games medals (six) and golds (four). Wang competed in all four short track events at both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, won half of them and earned medals in five of the six individual events. She would have been favored for more gold in 2014 but fractured an ankle three weeks before the Winter Games and never competed at another major championships. Wang was known for her unbeatable sprint speed and off-ice incidents. She was once suspended 13 months after reportedly, drunkenly punching a team manager who had chided her for breaking curfew.

Deng Yaping
Table Tennis
Four Olympic gold medals

Nowhere is China’s all-time Olympic dominance more evident than table tennis. Chinese won 28 of 32 gold medals and nearly three times as many total medals as any other nation. Deng, 4 feet, 11 inches, 115 pounds and dubbed “The Ping Pong Queen,” swept singles and doubles gold medals in 1992 and 1996. She was ranked No. 1 in the world from 1990-97 after initially being left off the national team for being so short.

Yang Wei
Gymnastics
Three Olympic gold medals

China has plenty of gymnastics greats, including Li Ning and Li Xiaoshuang, but Yang is the only one to earn Olympic all-around and team golds. He was the nation’s best gymnast at three Olympics — 2000, 2004 and 2008 — and, at his last Olympics in Beijing, dominated the all-around to win by 2.6 points. It remains a modern-era record for an Olympic men’s or women’s all-around margin of victory.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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11-year-old table tennis player qualifies for Olympics

Hend Zaza Table Tennis
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An 11-year-old Syrian table tennis player is set to become one of the youngest Olympians in history.

Hend Zaza, listed with a Jan. 1, 2009 birthdate by the International Table Tennis Federation, qualified for the Tokyo Games by winning the West Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament in Jordan last week, according to the federation and Syria’s Olympic Committee.

Table tennis is one of the Olympic sports that does not have an age minimum.

Zaza is in line to become the fifth-youngest known Olympic competitor in history and the youngest since Romanian figure skater Beatrice Hustiu in 1968, according to Olympedia and the OlyMADMen. The youngest documented Olympic competitor was Greek gymnast Dimitrios Loundras at the first modern Games in Athens in 1896.

Zaza is younger than Sky Brown, the 11-year-old British skateboarder who took bronze at last summer’s world championships. Brown, expected to qualify for the British team, turns 12 two weeks before the Tokyo Opening Ceremony.

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MORE: U.S. Olympic table tennis team finalized