The Team USA Guide to Para Track and Field At The Tokyo Games
by Stuart Lieberman
Jessica Heims competes in the women's discus throw F37/38/64 ambulatory final at the 2021 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials on June 19, 2021 in Minneapolis.
Team USA is entering the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 looking to one-better its performance from four years ago at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, where it finished second in the track and field medal standings with 42 pieces of hardware, including 16 gold medals.
The men’s roster features 35 athletes, nine of them Paralympic medalists from Rio and 12 of them medalists from the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships, and the 26-strong women’s roster is headlined by five Paralympic champions and a slew of rising star sprinters.
Taking place from Aug. 27 to Sept. 5, the track and field competition will be held at the National Stadium in Tokyo, with medals being awarded across 167 events.
Here’s a look at Team USA’s journey to get to Tokyo, and what to expect when the track and field athletes arrive at the National Stadium.
Nick Mayhugh competes in the men's 200-meter dash T37 ambulatory finals at the 2021 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials on June 18, 2021 in Minneapolis.
Femita Ayanbeku’s infectious laugh could be heard from the other side of the track every day at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for Track and Field in Minneapolis in June. The social butterfly was very representative of Team USA’s new wave of talent at the trials — a group ready to make history on the field of play and eager to #ShowTheWorld what Paralympic sport is all about on the screen.
The Boston native flew on the track to break four-time Paralympian April Holmes’ 15-year-old American record in the 100-meter T64 in 12.84, only two-tenths shy of the world record.
Her performance was one of several that smashed records at trials, where many Team USA athletes were peaking at the right time.
Also in Minneapolis, six years removed from being gunned down in a fast-food parking lot, Justin Phongsavanh broke the javelin world record, and Nick Mayhugh and Noah Malone set new American-best marks in the 200- and 400-meter distances, respectively, in their classes.
The sport’s veterans made themselves heard, too, as Paralympian Daniel Romanchuk swept all five of his wheelchair racing events, two-time Paralympian Jarryd Wallace won his 100-meter sprint, and two-time Paralympic medalist Cassie Mitchell threw the farthest in the world this year in the club throw.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg; there will be no shortage of depth on Team USA in Tokyo.
Daniel Romanchuk competes in the men's 5,000-meter T53/54 wheelchair final at the 2021 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials on June 19, 2021 in Minneapolis.
- Two of the world’s most dominant wheelchair racers — Tatyana McFadden and Daniel Romanchuk — both train at the University of Illinois and are expecting to hear “The Star-Spangled Banner” more than once in Tokyo. McFadden is a 17-time Paralympic medalist and the winner of 22 World Marathon Majors, aiming to compete in five wheelchair racing events in Tokyo. Her story of going from a Russian orphanage to Paralympic prodigy has been told time and time again, as she has been competing at the Games since she made her debut at 15 in 2004. Romanchuk will be entering his second Paralympic Games on a wave of momentum after winning all five of his T54 races at trials. He is already a world champion in the 800 and 1,500 and is the favorite in every marathon he enters. He will look to add his first Paralympic title — or five — to his name.
- David Brown is the fastest blind athlete in the world, with a Paralympic and two world titles to his name in the 100. This will be his third Paralympic Games and his first with a new guide.
- A social media sensation with more than three million followers across his platforms, Hunter Woodhall, the first double amputee to get an NCAA Division I track and field scholarship, is bound to bring the hype to TikTok in Tokyo when he competes in his favorite event, the 400-meter sprint.
- Paralympic champion Deja Young and world-record holder Brittni Mason both cracked the squad and are expected to produce a fierce rivalry in the T47 sprints. Young won both the 100 and 200 at the last Paralympic Games in Rio, but Mason, a quick riser in the sport, took both event titles at trials. “Deja and I always push each other to the finish line,” Mason said. “It’s amazing to see that we are now getting that same level playing field that the Olympics are getting and I’m really glad I’m a part of this growth leading into Tokyo.”
- Noah Malone and Nick Mayhugh may be the fastest athletes the world does not yet know. Malone runs for Indiana State and at trials set new American-best marks in the 200 and 400 T11 events. Mayhugh was the 2019 U.S. Soccer Player of the Year with a Disability who took up track last year after soccer 7-a-side was removed from the Paralympic Games program. In Minneapolis, he broke the world record in the 100 and American record in the 200 and is now ranked No. 1 in the world in both events in the T37 class.
- Discus stars Jeremy Campbell and David Blair will go head-to-head again at the Paralympic Games as teammates. Campbell will enter the ring in Tokyo as a three-time Paralympic champion and world-record holder, and Blair as the reigning Paralympic champion. “There’s a good rivalry there, but we’re also friends, so it’s good competition,” Campbell said. “Without David as a rival and teammate, I don’t know where the competition in Paralympic discus would be.”
- A trio of names highlight women’s field athletes: world championship long jump silver medalist Jaleen Roberts, discus thrower Jessica Heims and two-time Paralympic medalist thrower Cassie Mitchell.
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.