Pagonis, Smith strike gold on night five of world championships in Madeira

by Kristen Gowdy

Anastasia Pagonis competes in the 100-meter freestyle S11 at the Madeira 2022 Para Swimming World Championships. (Photo: Getty Images)

MADEIRA, PORTUGAL – Paralympic gold medalist Anastasia Pagonis (Long Island, New York) and eight-time world champion Leanne Smith (Salem, Massachusetts) were each crowned world champions once again on the fifth night of the Madeira 2022 Para Swimming World Championships to lead Team USA to another six-medal night in Portugal.  


Pagonis earned her second title of the week via a dominant performance in the women’s 100-meter freestyle S11, while Smith’s world record-tying swim in the women’s 50-meter freestyle S3 gave her a team-leading five gold medals in Madeira.


Team USA brought home six medals on the day for the third time this meet. The Americans sit second in the medal standings with 26, behind only Italy. Paralympic champions Gia Pergolini (Atlanta, Georgia) and Mikaela Jenkins (Evansville, Indiana) took silver and bronze in their races, respectively, while Summer Schmit (Stillwater, Minnesota) had a breakout performance in the 400-meter freestyle S9 to earn bronze, the first worlds medal of her career.


Smith is having the most dominant meet of her career, having competed every day and winning every race in which she has swam. With five world titles in Madeira, she is tied for second among more than 500 athletes at the meet for most championship titles won.


The 2020 Paralympic silver medalist tonight won her 50-meter freestyle race by nearly 10 seconds, tying the world record set by Arjola Trimi of Italy at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.


Smith has taken full advantage of the increased number of events for her S3 class on the program in Madeira and said she has surprised even herself with her success.


“I just set out really looking forward to having the opportunity to swim races that haven’t been offered in the lower classifications before,” Smith said. “We switched up my training to accommodate all of my events that I’m racing this week. It has been a tall task to get through all my training that way, but I think we prepared well, and I’ve been able to come here and execute as one could only dream of.”


She gave credit to the coaches and staff around her that have helped her prepare for a busy competition slate.


“It has been a team effort, it really does take a team approach, not just as a team of swimmers, but as a team that helps us and makes sure we’re getting what we need,” she said. “I’m very dialed into what my needs are, I’ve learned over many years. Props to them for sticking with me and helping me along the way.”


Smith has her single day off tomorrow before returning for two events, the 200-meter freestyle and the 100-meter freestyle, on the final day of competition.


Pagonis, meanwhile, has also won each race in which she has competed. The 18-year-old, who is in her first world championships appearance, took the 100-meter freestyle S11 tonight by more than a full second, completing the race in 1:06.87.


She still has her best event, the 400-meter freestyle she won in Tokyo, in store for Saturday.


“I wasn’t expecting that tonight out of myself, so I feel really confident going into the 400,” Pagonis said. “I was a little bit nervous originally since it was the last day, but now that I’ve swam a good 100, I’m feeling really excited and confident.”


Pergolini, already a two-time world champion in Madeira, finished the women’s 50-meter freestyle S13 with her fourth medal of the meet, a silver. The 2020 Paralympic champion has yet to finish below the silver medal in the four races in which she has competed.


Pergolini and world champion Colleen Young (St. Louis, Missouri), who took fifth in the 50-meter freestyle S13 today, will finish their Madeira schedules with the 200-meter individual medley SM13 on Saturday.


A massive personal-best time from Schmit, a world championships rookie, in the women’s 400-meter freestyle S9 propelled her to her first career world championships medal. The 19-year-old Paralympian swam 4:51.47 to take bronze, knocking 5.45 seconds off her previous personal best.


The medal concludes Schmit’s Madeira campaign on a high note.


“I have a ton of fun doing the 400, I love racing with these girls,” Schmit said. “I had a pretty decent prelim this morning knowing this was my last swim and giving it my all.”


She credited the veterans on the team for helping her grow through her Paralympic and world championship debuts this year.


“They’re so awesome,” she said. “It’s so nice to have so many role models to look up to and to try to follow in their footsteps.”


The two-time Paralympic champion Jenkins also earned her first medal of Madeira 2022 with bronze in the women’s 100-meter butterfly S9. Jenkins rebounded from a tough start to her week with her fourth career world championship medal.


Last time out, in the women’s 200-meter individual medley SM10, Jenkins received a disqualification from the race officials for an illegal wall touch on a turn. However, a protest from U.S. Paralympics Swimming overturned the call, allowing Jenkins to retain her fourth-place result.  


“It’s been a rough week, and I was relieved not to get another disqualification ruling,” Jenkins said. “It’s a really big honor to bring home a medal here. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to come to this meet, it was a last-minute decision for me, so I was just happy that I came out and did as well as I could have.”


Already a world champion in Madeira as a member of the mixed 4x50 medley relay team, five-time Paralympic medalist Elizabeth Marks (Colorado Springs, Colorado) added another world championship medal to her resumé tonight, earning bronze in the women’s 50-meter freestyle S6.


Marks will race her final event, the 50-meter butterfly S6, on Saturday.


Team USA’s relay team composed of Robert Griswold (Freehold, New Jersey), Morgan Ray (St. Augustine, Florida), Lizzi Smith (Muncie, Indiana) and Audrey Kim (Salt Lake City, Utah) teamed for seventh place in the mixed 4x100-meter medley 34pts, finishing in 4:40.73. The U.S. has one more relay left, the mixed 4x100-meter freestyle 34pts, which is the final event of the competition on Saturday.


Paralympic silver medalist Ahalya Lettenberger (Glen Ellyn, Illinois) and five-time Paralympian Rudy Garcia-Tolson (Colorado Springs, Colorado) finished fifth and seventh in the women’s and men’s 50-meter butterfly S7, respectively. Lettenberger’s time of  41.50 was a personal best in the event. Both she and Garcia-Tolson have a quick turnaround; they are set to compete in the 100-meter breaststroke S7 tomorrow.


In her Maderia debut, two-time Paralympic medalist Sophia Herzog (Fairplay, Colorado) placed ninth in the women’s 50-meter freestyle S6 preliminary race this morning. Herzog, who is the reigning Paralympic bronze medalist and the 2017 world champion in the 100-meter breaststroke, is set to compete in her signature event tomorrow.


Competition resumes Friday morning at 9AM local time with the sixth day of preliminary heats. Every session of Madeira 2022 will be live streamed on the U.S. Paralympics Swimming Facebook page. Follow U.S. Paralympics Swimming on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for live updates and coverage from world championships.


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- Anastasia Pagonis (women’s 100-meter freestyle S11)

- Leanne Smith (women’s 50-meter freestyle S3)




- Gia Pergolini (women’s 50-meter freestyle S13)




- Mikaela Jenkins (women’s 100-meter butterfly S10)

- Elizabeth Marks (women’s 50-meter freestyle S6)

- Summer Schmit (women’s 400-meter freestyle S9)