Memorable And Most-Watched Paralympic Trials Conclude In Minneapolis
by Stuart Lieberman
Susannah Scaroni looks on after competing at U.S. Paralympic Team Trials - Track & Field on June 18, 2020 in Minneapolis.
The U.S. Paralympic Team Trials in Minneapolis over the weekend are already guaranteed to be the most-watched in event history, as for the first time ever they were live streamed across NBC’s Peacock, NBCOlympics.com and NBC Sports App platforms. Trials in all three sports — cycling, swimming and track and field — were shown live.
“There has been tremendous positive feedback to the historic live streaming by NBC. Families and friends from around the country were able to watch the athletes compete, and the live stream is a critical piece of raising Paralympic awareness within the broader public here in the U.S.,” said Julie Dussliere, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s chief of Paralympic sport. “In addition, we just launched our new ‘Show the World’ PSA that is focused on raising awareness of the Movement and getting fans ready for the incredible action to come from Tokyo.”
The Trials were highlighted by dominant performances from established names and record-breaking performances from a series of newcomers.
At Breck School, where track and field took place, newcomers smashed records in their Trials debuts. Justin Phongsavanh broke the javelin world record, while 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 and Paralympian Femita Ayanbeku won their 100-meter sprints, and two-time Paralympic medalist Cassie Mitchell threw the furthest in the world this year in the club throw.
In the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center pool at the University of Minnesota, two 17-year-olds broke world records in their first Trials. Long Island’s Anastasia Pagonis set a new standard in the 400-meter freestyle — in addition to new American records in the 200-meter IM and 50-meter freestyle — and Atlanta’s Gia Pergolini broke the world record in the 100-meter backstroke. American records were also set by a number of athletes: David Abrahams, two-time Paralympic medalist Hannah Aspden, Paralympic medalist Robert Griswold, Jamal Hill, Paralympic gold medalist Elizabeth Marks, Zach Shattuck, Leanne Smith, and Matthew Torres.
Along Minneapolis’ scenic West River Parkway, cycling Paralympians Samantha Bosco and Tom Davis stole the show to earn the day’s top two times for the women’s and men’s time trials. Bosco clocked a mark of 90.24 percent against the Paralympic standard, while Davis’ time was 90.65.
“The Trials event went off without a hitch,” Dussliere said. “We are extremely thankful to the venues, the Breck School and University of Minnesota Aquatic Center, as well as the City of Minneapolis and Sports Minneapolis for their support. While the COVID-19 pandemic added some logistical challenges to event operations planning, our team pulled together to put procedures in place to create an environment for the athletes that would be as low-risk as possible so that they could perform at their best on the field of play.
“We saw many great performances this week at the track, in the pool, and on the bike. This bodes well for Team USA as these three sports nominate their Paralympic teams and the coaches and athletes shift their focus to the Tokyo Paralympic Games later this summer.”
The weekend culminated with 34 athletes being named to the U.S. Paralympic Swimming Team and 14 athletes cracking the roster for the U.S. Paralympic Cycling Team for the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. The track and field team will be named later next week.
The swimming roster for Tokyo includes a long list of talented women, including 23-time Paralympic medalist Jessica Long, who is already the second-most decorated Paralympian in U.S. history. She is joined by Marks, Pagonis, six-time Paralympic medalist Becca Meyers, two-time Paralympic and 15-time world championship medalist Mallory Weggemann and four-time Paralympic medalist McKenzie Coan.
The men’s side of the swim squad is highlighted by Hill, two-time Paralympian and world champion Evan Austin and five-time Paralympic medalist Rudy Garcia-Tolson, who recently came out of retirement to go for a fifth Games.
The cycling team includes eight athletes who have previous Paralympic experience and a combined 19 medals. Two multi-sport athletes, eight-time Paralympic medalist Oksana Masters and six-time Paralympic medalist Will Groulx will be heading to their fourth Paralympic Games. They will be joined by two-time Paralympic champion Shawn Morelli and world champion Clara Brown.
Team USA fans who missed any of Trials will be able to tune into a 90-minute recap show of the event’s best moments airing June 27 on NBC, and the network will carry an unprecedented 1,200 hours of Tokyo Paralympic coverage later this summer.
Stuart Lieberman has covered Paralympic sports for 10 years, including for the International Paralympic Committee at the London 2012, Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.