McKenzie Coan Defends 400-Meter Title as Team USA Collects Four Medals
by Matt Whewell
TOKYO — On the fifth day of racing inside the Tokyo Aquatic Center, McKenzie Coan (Clarksville, Georgia) secured her fourth career Paralympic gold medal with a win in the women’s 400-meter freestyle S7, en route to Team USA’s four medal night.
The reigning world and Paralympic champion in the event, Coan clocked a 5:05.84 to take home the win and lead the way for three of the four fastest times in the event to be recorded by Americans.
The five-time Paralympic medalist was joined on the podium by Julia Gaffney (Mayflower, Arkansas), who finished third in 5:11.89 and collected her first piece of Paralympic hardware. Ahalya Lettenberger (Glen Ellyn, Illinois), the silver medalist in the women’s 200-meter individual medley SM7, just missed the podium after finishing in 5:13.55 for fourth place in the event.
Evan Austin (Terre Haute, Indiana) started the four-medal night for Team USA in the men’s 400-meter freestyle S7. The three-time Paralympian strategically paced his way to a 35.22 final 50-meter split and touched the wall in an Americas record time of 4:38.95 for the bronze medal. It was his first career Paralympic medal.
First-time Paralympian Jamal Hill (Inglewood, California) continued the medal locomotive with an Americas record time of 25.19 in the men’s 50-meter freestyle S9 as he grabbed bronze.
Team USA’s night concluded with the women’s 4x100-meter freestyle 34 points team of Natalie Sims (Edina, Minnesota), Morgan Stickney (Cary, N.C.), Jessica Long (Baltimore, Maryland) and Hannah Aspden (Raleigh, N.C.). The quartet finished first, but their swim was ruled a disqualification along with the Great Britain relay team.
Other notable finals appearances for the U.S. team included Leanne Smith’s (Salem, Massachusetts) who finished sixth with a 1:02.93 in the women’s 50-meter backstroke S3, while Anastasia Pagonis (Long Island, N.Y.) sprinted to an eighth-place finish with a 30.91 in the women’s 50-meter freestyle S11. Pagonis’ event was a re-swim following an NPC’s appeal of the original race results.
The evening ended in heartbreak for the women’s 4x100-meter freestyle 34 points team of Natalie Sims (Edina, Minnesota), Morgan Stickney (Cary, N.C.), Jessica Long (Baltimore, Maryland) and Hannah Aspden (Raleigh, N.C.). The quartet finished first, but their swim was ruled a disqualification along with the Great Britain relay team.
The Americans also had a trio of swimmers in the water during the morning session. Gia Pergolini (Atlanta, Georgia), Martha Ruether (Allegany, N.Y.) and Colleen Young (St. Louis, Missouri) raced in the women's 50-meter freestyle S13, and finished ninth (28.18), 15th (28.88) and 20th (29.21), respectively.
The second half of 10 days of racing continues tomorrow with day six of Paralympic competition. Preliminary heats are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. EST and finals start at 4 a.m. EST. All races will be live streamed through NBCOlympics.com, on Peacock and through the NBC Sports app. A full schedule of events is available here.
TEAM USA MEDALS – DAY FIVE (4)
- McKenzie Coan (women’s 400m freestyle S7)
- Evan Austin (men’s 400m freestyle S7)
- Julia Gaffney (women’s 400m freestyle S7)
- Jamal Hill (men’s 50m freestyle S9)
I'm really happy with my swim. I wanted to go out there and execute my race plan. I knew that Giulia [Terzi] would probably take it out a little bit faster. I'm more of a back-half swimmer, and in the last five years since Rio that's really what I've worked on doing.
To be able to come here and defend [my title], it's been a really long five years. There's been a lot of hard things these five years. To be able to come here, especially after the last year—what the world has gone through—it's just nice to come here and do something that makes you smile and makes you happy, so I think it means even more.
I truly don’t know how to put this into words. I’m sure it will come in waves over the next couple of minutes, the next hour then hours, and I’m sure it will continue over the next few days. I’m just so thankful for my community and village that surrounds and supports me.
My family has been truly indescribable throughout this whole process, especially during the pandemic by never losing belief in me. They’ve given me the ability to train and pursue this dream. That all just culminated a few minutes ago with this first medal for me.”
I’m so excited. I’ve been training with McKenzie [Coan] at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center for the past year. I’m just so proud of her to get that gold.
I had to move on and I'm so happy that I was able to bounce back and get a bronze for Team USA. I just had to know that I had other chances to get on the podium. I felt really calm in the call-room and just I was ready to get it done.
It’s kind of surreal. I’m really excited to watch the playback of the race. It was a personal best for me and I just need I had to come in and leave it all in the pool. It feels really good. It’s been five years coming. I was a long shot and here we are, I’m on the podium. I’m going to share the podium with great athletes.
What I was thinking in the race was just go. I was just really thinking to go. I had to move my arms as fast as I can, kick the legs as fast as I can, and keep my butt and core tight with my head down. When I touched the wall, I was scared to turnaround because I knew it was tight, but when I did and I heard one of the coaches yell out my name I know it was safe to turnaround.