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Nine Times Team USA Teams Thrilled At The Tokyo Games

by Stuart Lieberman

The U.S. women's goalball team celebrates at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 3, 2021 in Tokyo.

While the pandemic threw a wrench in many U.S. team sports’ training camp schedules for the last year and a half, it certainly didn’t deter their performances at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 in the end.

Here’s a look back at some of the Team USA squads that stole the headlines in Tokyo.

The U.S. women’s goalball team won five of its seven matches in Tokyo, leaving the Games with a silver medal after losing to Turkey in the final and going one better than it did in Rio five years ago. It marked the women’s program’s seventh Paralympic medal, and the fourth for veteran play-ers Lisa Czechowski and Asya Miller. The dynamic duo, ages 42 and 41, respectively, were two of the four Team USA athletes in Tokyo competing at their sixth Games.


Hannah Aspden, Mikaela Jenkins, Jessica Long and Morgan Stickney pose during the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 2, 2021 in Tokyo.


Nearly a third of Team USA’s 104 medals in Tokyo came in the pool, and one of the most exuber-ant moments for U.S. swimmers was when Hannah Aspden, Mikaela Jenkins, Jessica Long and Morgan Stickney won gold in the women’s 4x100-meter medley 34-point relay. The U.S. went from fourth to first place in the final lap when Stickney turned a five-second deficit into a three-second victory with her dominant freestyle leg. It marked the first time the U.S. won gold in the event in 17 years. “It's absolutely incredible,” Aspden said.


Alicia Dana, Ryan Pinney and Freddie De Los Santos pose on the podium with their medals after winning bronze in the mixed H1-5 team relay on Sept. 2, 2021 in Tokyo.


Alicia Dana, Ryan Pinney and Freddie De Los Santos combined their efforts to capture a bronze medal in the mixed H1-5 team relay at the Fuji International Speedway in less than ideal weather conditions. It marked the third Paralympic medal for Dana, and the first for both Pinney and De Los Santos. “This is my first one (medal),” said De Los Santos, a U.S. Army veteran, afterwards. “I race today for the glory of God, for my family, my country, my community, for my teammates — especially Will Groulx who is not with us today because he got injured — and for the wonderful staff and coaches we have. This is like a dream come true. I feel like a little kid, I feel like I’m in Disney. I love it, this is wonderful.”

Rebecca Hart and El Corona Texel compete in the dressage individual test - grade III at the  Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 27, 2021 in Tokyo.


History was made at the Equestrian Park in Tokyo, where the U.S. won its first-ever medal in team dressage. Roxanne Trunnell, Rebecca Hart and Kate Shoemaker combined for bronze in the event, as the team test was set to music for the first time at the Paralympics. It was one of three medals U.S. Para-equestrian riders won in Tokyo — the first podium appearances for the U.S. on the Par-alympic stage since 2004.

The PR3 Mixed Coxed Four team on the podium at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 29, 2021 in Tokyo.

There’s arguably no U.S. Paralympic team more consistent than the PR3 mixed coxed four rowing squad. For the seventh consecutive time at a Paralympics or world championships, the crew took the silver medal. Dani Hansen, Charley Nordin, coxswain Karen Petrik, Allie Reilly and John Tan-guay, were unable to break the streak to grab gold at Sea Forest Way, but they were proud of their accomplishment in a stacked field nonetheless. “We executed what we wanted to do and we put together everything that we set out to do,” Petrik said. “We're just happy with our result and happy with how the race went.”


The U.S. men's wheelchair basketball team celebrate at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 5, 2021 in Tokyo.


For the third time in history Team USA won back-to-back Paralympic titles in men’s wheelchair basketball. The U.S. faced host nation Japan — the Cinderella story of the tournament — in the gold-medal game and trailed by five points with five minutes remaining. Captain Steve Serio came up clutch in the final minutes to catapult the U.S. to a 64-60 victory and finish with 28 points and nine assists. “Japan was the Cinderella story of this tournament, but you couldn’t ask for a more storybook ending for us,” Serio said. “We didn’t get the start we wanted, but we definitely got the finish we wanted.”

The U.S. women's sitting volleyball team celebrates at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 5, 2021 in Tokyo.

While the U.S. lost to its archrival and three-time Paralympic champions China in the preliminary round of the women’s sitting volleyball competition,Team USA proved resilient, firing back to down China in four sets in the gold-medal match. The U.S. defended its title from Rio and kept its streak alive of medaling in every Paralympics women’s sitting volleyball has been contested in da-ting back to 2004. U.S. women’s volleyball left Tokyo making a statement, having claimed gold in all three disciplines: Olympic indoor, Olympic beach and Paralympic sitting. “Women are strong, women can do anything they put their minds to, and USA Volleyball has the strongest women in the world,” captain Katie Holloway said.


(L-R) Brittni Mason, Noah Malone, Tatyana McFadden and Nick Mayhugh celebrate after winning gold in the 4x100m universal relay at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 3, 2021 in Tokyo.


In the first-ever 4x100-meter universal relay Paralympic final on the track Team USA stormed to gold in a world-record time of 45.52, as Noah Malone (T12), Brittni Mason (T46), Nick Mayhugh (T37) and Tatyana McFadden (T54) combined to put on a thrilling show. The final exchange be-tween Mayhugh and McFadden was seamless in the final after a near slip-up in the heats, and the victory marked McFadden’s 20th career Paralympic medal and eighth gold.

Members of the men's wheelchair rugby team on the podium at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 29, 2021 in Tokyo.


Chuck Aoki was at center stage from the start of the Tokyo Games, leading Team USA into the opening ceremony alongside paratriathlete and fellow flag bearer Melissa Stockwell. The three-time Paralympian from Minneapolis then provided one of the first viral highlights of the Games with his cool-as-ice overhead tap and grab for a try in the preliminary round win against Canada — one of 30 he had in the game. Although the squad fell just short of its first gold medal since 2008, Aoki and the U.S. men claimed silver to extend their streak as the only team to win a medal in all seven Paralympic wheelchair rugby tournaments dating back to 1996.

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 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.