One Year Later, Team USA's Top Swimmers Are Finally In Minneapolis For The Paralympic Trials
by Karen Price
Matthew Torres trains before trials begin in Minneapolis. (Photo: Joe Kusumoto)
In a photo she posted to Instagram recently, two-time Paralympian Becca Meyers points to an empty pool.
The caption reads, “Swipe left to see how to make a swimmer happy,” along with the hashtag #summeriscoming, and the next photo shows a smiling Meyers, arms raised, beside the same pool filled with water.
A year ago all Team USA swimmers were feeling the sadness of the first photo. The pools were empty, the Paralympics postponed. Now they all share in Meyers’ happiness that not only are the pools filled, but also that the Paralympics are on. The countdown is nearly over. They are a week away from having their last opportunity to prove they belong in Tokyo this summer at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for Swimming.
The event will take place June 17-20 at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. For the first time ever, trials will be live streamed and can be accessed for free on NBCOlympics.com, PeacockTV.com and the NBC Sports app. Unlike Olympic swimming trials, this event isn’t a “win and you’re in” situation. The trials will be an important step in the process, and a victory will certainly help an athlete’s chance of showing his or her form and readiness with the Paralympics just over two months away. However, a committee will determine after the trials which athletes will fill the available quota spots.
The Paralympics will take place Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.
Taking center stage will undoubtedly be some of the country’s biggest and best performers from past Paralympics, including Jessica Long, Becca Meyers and McKenzie Coan.
Long, 29, has been a staple on the international scene since making her Paralympic debut at the age of 12. She’s now hoping to qualify for her fifth Paralympic Games and add to her considerable medal tally of 13 gold medals, six silver and four bronze.
Featured in a Toyota ad that ran during the Super Bowl, Long recently posted a training video to her Instagram that shows her diving into the pool and stopping halfway to climb a rope. Long had both legs amputated below the knees when she was still a baby.
She wrote to go along with the video, “There are some big competitions on the horizon! Train insane or remain the same has always been a favorite quote of mine. I’ve been incorporating climbing ropes and drinking lots of milk to enhance my training.”
Meyers, 26, had a breakout year in Rio, winning three gold medals and setting two world records.
Coan, meanwhile, was the most successful U.S. athletes at the Paralympics in Rio with a total of five medals. Now 24, she’s eager to be back in the pool against the world’s best and is aiming to win not just gold medals but also set world records in Tokyo.
“I really believe I can do it,” she said.
There are also a whole host of younger athletes who’ve already made a name for themselves on the world stage but are hoping to make their Paralympic debuts in Tokyo.
Lawrence Sapp, for instance, won gold in the 100-meter backstroke at the 2017 world championships and silver in the 100-meter butterfly at the 2019 world championships. The 17-year-old is hoping to parlay that success into a podium finish at his first Paralympics.
Mikaela Jenkins was only 16 when she won the 100-meter butterfly at the world championships and after setting Pan American and American records she’s also ready to take her swimming to the next level.
Julia Gaffney is also a newly-minted world champion as of 2019, with a gold medal in the 200-meter individual medley and a world record in the 100-meter backstroke, and Matthew Torres was the most decorated swimmer at the 2019 Parapan American Games with a total of four individual and two relay medals.
In order to qualify for the trials, swimmers must have at least one 2020 Trials Minimum Qualifying Standard times from an approved competition at one of the Paralympic program events. Those who have made the team are expected to be notified on June 20.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, spectators will not be allowed at the trials.