Pagnois leads historic second day of trials breaking three records
by Heather Ward
Paralympic hopeful Anastasia Pagonis (Long Island, New York) continues to shine as a Tokyo contender after securing three of the day’s eight total records on the second day of the 2020 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials – Swimming most notably securing a double world record finish women’s 400m freestyle S11 over the course of the preliminary and final events in the S11 category.
After setting the new world record with a time of 4:59.28 in the morning’s third event of the session, Pagonis proceeded to top her performance by lowering her record to 4:56.16 in the finals. In her second event of the day, the Long Island native swam the 100m freestyle in 1:06.89 setting an additional American record.
World champion Leanne Smith (Salem, Massachusetts) controlled the pool in the women’s 50 backstroke breaking the Americas record (54.20) in hopes of being named to her first Paralympic team. Smith collected three gold medals at the London 2019 World Para Swimming Championships in the 150m individual medley, 100m freestyle and 50m breaststroke, as well as a silver in the 50m backstroke.
Paralympian Robert Griswold (Freehold, New Jersey) impressed with a historic split while competing in the men’s 100m freestyle S8, posting a time of 1:02.88. After winning a bronze medal at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 in the 100m backstroke, Griswold aims to make his second Paralympic Team.
The U.S. women’s 400-meter freestyle featured a stacked lineup of the world’s top competitors as the first-ranked Morgan Stickney (Cary, North Carolina) and world second- ranked Jessica Long (Baltimore, Maryland) went head-to-head in the finals. In a tightly contested battle down the final stretch, Long pulled away at the end, touching in 4:44.31 with Stickney clocking in a time of 4:45.77.
Matthew Torres (Ansonia, Connecticut) also had a strong showing on day two, breaking the Americas record in the 400-meter freestyle S8, clocking in at 4:29.52.
In the 100-meter freestyle S7, the U.S. women own four of the top eight rankings in the world and McKenzie Coan capitalized on her training efforts, posting a 1:10.80 mark to take first in the event. Natalie Sims swam a personal best 4:57.85 in the 400-meter freestyle in the S9 class, which moved her into ninth place in the world ranks after she posted a 5:07.17 on April 15 in Lewisville. Sims is the highest ranked American in the event, surpassing then ninth-ranked Summer Schmit (5:00.15) and eleventh-ranked Cali Prochaska (5:06.55).
I’m really tired after doing both races back-to-back, it’s a tough feat. I had a great backstroke race this morning and was able to come back this afternoon and lower it by a little bit more, so I’m really impressed with that swim. It’s a stroke that I’ve been working on and getting better and better at each day. It was nice to be able to put it together here in Minneapolis.
On the USOPC’s Show The World campaign: It’s huge. I think that it is long overdue, and I thought that the way they went about it was strategic and the way that they executed the campaign was really big and powerful.
Mei Mei White:
On her competition: I dropped a really good time today in my 400 and finals so that gives me a lot of faith for my 2ym. My 100 breast was not exactly what I wanted but I touched first so I’ll take it.
On the importance of athlete mental health: I’ve been through a lot of crazy stuff. I recently moved to a new town and then COVID and everything was crazy, but I was also diagnosed with depression about two years ago and it really hit a downhill moment about nine months ago or so. I didn’t swim for about six months and back then, I didn’t picture myself being here at this meet. There were so many times I wanted to quit swimming, I was like ‘no, this is not worth it, I don’t know why I’m doing this anymore.’ Being here now, I would tell myself about six months ago, that it sucked but you made it through and you’re at the end of the tunnel, of that dark tunnel, and you’re in the light now. To anyone that’s hurting out there or has mental illness, there is hope at the end and I am so proud of the girl that was in pain 12 months ago and to anyone else who is going through that.
On swimming a personal-best in the 400m free: All I was thinking in my mind was ‘I’ve been training so hard to get here that I just want to finish strong.’ I finished with my right hand, but my best time ever, under five for the first time, so very exciting. It was a PR, a lifetime best. It’s a gut-buster for sure. When you feel that gut feeling and your legs start to feel like Jell-O, you know you swam it right.
I really wanted to go out and have a solid swim. I was looking for that early speed and I think I found it a little bit better than this morning, so I’m really happy with it. It’s funny, I always say the 400 is my favorite event, but I think the 100 free is a close second. I would love to see more early speed so that’s definitely what I’m going to be focusing on when I go back for the Tokyo Games. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to go even faster at Games, hopefully.