Tonga Olympic flag bearer raises half a million dollars for tsunami relief

Opening Ceremony - Olympics: Day 0
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Pita Taufatofua, the shirtless Tongan Olympic flag bearer who became a social media sensation, has raised more than $500,000 for relief after an underwater volcanic eruption and tsunami that devastated his nation.

U.N. humanitarian officials reported that about 84,000 people — more than 80 percent of Tonga’s population — have been impacted by the eruption, U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said Wednesday.

“Initial reports of damage have been catastrophic and all communications with Tonga have been wiped out,” Taufatofua, who at the time was training in Australia, wrote in launching the Gofundme last week with a goal of 1,000,000 Australian dollars (more than $700,000). “In preparation and through the recovery efforts we are seeking your donations to help our island Kingdom. … Initial priority for the funds will go towards those most in need, infrastructure and damage to schools, hospitals etc.”

When Taufatofua launched the gofundme, he had lost contact with his 74-year-old father, a governor in Tonga. On Friday, Taufatofua posted that his father had been found safe.

The tsunami severed the single fiber-optic cable that connects Tonga to the rest of the world, leaving many unable to connect with loved ones abroad. Since then, satellite communication has improved, and Tonga’s telecoms operator, Digicel, said it had been able to restore international call services to some areas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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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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American Evan Medell medals in the Paralympic debut of taekwondo

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Day Eleven
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Evan Medell became the first U.S. man to compete in taekwondo at the Paralympic Games as well as the first American to win a Paralympic medal in the sport.

The 24-year-old earned bronze in the men’s +75kg K44 on Saturday, the last of three days of taekwondo competition in Tokyo.

Badminton and taekwondo are both new to the Paralympic program this year, though the U.S. did not send any badminton players.

Medell and Brianna Salinaro qualified to represent the U.S. in Tokyo by being among the top ranked athletes in the world as of Jan. 1, 2020.

He entered the Games as the world No. 1, while Salinaro was sixth in the women’s 58kg K44.

On Friday, the 23-year-old Salinaro fell to eventual bronze medalist Silvana Mayara Cardoso Fernandes of Brazil, 15-2 in the quarterfinal, then was pulled back in but swept 10-0 in the repechage quarterfinal by India’s Palesha Nep Goverdhan, who went on to finish fifth.

A 2017 World bronze medalist, Salinaro is the first taekwondo athlete with cerebral palsy to compete internationally and the first woman to represent the U.S. in Para taekwondo.

Medell, who was born with brachial plexus palsy, won his quarterfinal 22-19 over Libya’s Mohamed Abidar before 2015 World champion Ivan Mikulic of Croatia won their semifinal 28-9.

The 2019 Parapan American Games champion and 2017 World bronze medalist then rebounded to win the bronze-medal match 13-11 over Costa Rica’s Andres Esteban Molina Gomez.

“I am a bit disappointed, but it’s better to walk away with a medal than no medal,” he said, according to TeamUSA.org. “Hopefully it’s something to build on for U.S. taekwondo in general.”

The first Paralympic medal ever awarded in the sport went to Thailand’s Khwansuda Phuangkitcha, who earned bronze in the women’s 49kg K44 on Thursday, while Peruvian Leonor Espinoza Carranza won the first gold that day in the same division.

Turkey’s Mahmut Bozteke was the first men’s medalist, with bronze in the 61kg K44 event, while Brazil’s Nathan Cesar Sodario Torquato was the first men’s gold medalist, winning that weight class.

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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