NewsSusannah Scaroni

Susannah Scaroni Goes All Out In Earning First Paralympic Gold

by Stuart Lieberman

Susannah Scaroni celebrates after winning the women's 5,000-meter T54 at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 28, 2021 in Tokyo.


All summer long, as Susannah Scaroni was gearing up for her third Paralympic Games, she kept telling herself, “I’m not allowed to do what I want to do.” 
But in her first race on the Tokyo track, she did just that.
The Tekoa, Washington, native made a bold move early on in the women’s 5,000-meter T54 final, going on an all-out sprint with seven laps still to go to win gold, her first-ever Paralympic medal.
“I feel so blessed,” said Scaroni, who values speed over tactics. “My strength is going as hard as I can for a long time. That never happens at the Paralympics, and I have no experience doing anything else. I looked back and nobody else was there, and thought seven laps to go is a huge risk, but I know my strength is to go hard for a long time. It just miraculously worked.”
Scaroni’s time of 10:52.57 shattered the previous Paralympic record of 11:47.37 set by Tatyana McFadden in 2016 and was only one second shy of Manuela Schär's world record in the event. Schär left with silver and McFadden claimed the bronze.
“It’s not necessarily the winning that mattered, it’s more that my best effort was the best,” Scaroni said. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity to race with such strong women. This is a huge improvement for me, and I’m really happy for how my training has gone over the last five years and that the learning I’ve gone through has paid off.”
Scaroni returned to the track the following day to win bronze in the 800, finishing behind only Schär and McFadden to double her medal count. She went on to finish ninth in the 1,500 and then sixth in the marathon after leading for much of the race with her early sprinting tactics. 
Scaroni bettered her Paralympic performances in all but one event in Tokyo; heading into the Games her previous best finish at the Games was seventh place in the marathon in 2016. She hopes her performances in Tokyo, as well as all her career accomplishments, leave a legacy for the next generation.

Susannah Scaroni competes in the women's 5,000-meter T52 at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 28, 2021 in Tokyo.


Earlier this year, Scaroni wrote on “As a female para-athlete, I want to leverage the power of sports to cast an image for all girls, of all functional abilities, in all countries and at any age that they can set goals and reach them. I want them to know that they can lead full lives and make this world a better place. I want them to know that when things are extra challenging, when they learn of an imbalance somewhere, that they’ll know they can embrace that ‘failure’ and use it to grow more fully.”
The 30-year-old’s rise to the podium may have been a surprise for the casual Paralympic fan, but not for those who follow wheelchair racing closely. 
In 2017, she had a breakout season that consisted of podium finishes at the Tokyo and Boston marathons, and the following year had runner-up finishes at the Boston Marathon and Berlin Marathon, and a third-place finish at the London Marathon. She followed that up in 2019 by setting an American best in the marathon with a personal-best time of 1:30:42 to win the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota.
She has beaten 20-time Paralympic medalist Tatyana McFadden on multiple occasions leading up to the Tokyo Games, including in the 5,000 meters at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials in June.
But this was the first time she has beaten her teammate and legendary racer at the Paralympic Games.
“I watched my last two Games these girls beside me work their tails off to make it to the podium, and I got anxiety just watching them,” Scaroni said of her University of Illinois teammates. “So to help continue the legacy for Team USA is amazing.”

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.
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