Team USA won 115 medals at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, the most won at a Paralympics by the U.S. since the Atlanta 1996 Games. The United States also swept the podium three different times and set eight world records.
Here’s a look at 16 of the most memorable moments for the delegation in Rio.
Heading into the 2016 Games, China had won every single Paralympic title in women’s sitting volleyball since it was added to the program for the Athens 2004 Games, defeating Team USA in two of the three finals leading up to Rio. The tables were turned in Rio, with the Americans taking gold over the heavy favorites in dominating fashion, winning the final in straight sets (25-12, 25-12, 25-18). The squad’s gold medal followed silver medals for Team USA at the 2008 and 2012 Paralympics, and a bronze medal at the 2004 Paralympics.
On the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the United States swept the podium in the women’s paratriathlon PT2 competition at Copacabana Beach, where the sport made its Paralympic Games debut. Allysa Seely claimed gold in 1 hour, 22 minutes and 55 seconds, and Hailey Danisewicz, the first U.S. triathlete to qualify for a Paralympics crossed the line second. The pair then awaited third-place finisher Melissa Stockwell, the first female American solider in history to lose a limb in active combat who had previously competed in swimming at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics.
For the first time in 28 years, both the men’s and women’s U.S. wheelchair basketball teams won gold at the same Paralympic Games. Fueled by co-captain Steve Serio, who had 42 points, 23 rebounds and 30 assists in the men’s team’s final three games, the U.S. men went undefeated in the tournament to claim their eighth overall Paralympic title and first since the Seoul 1988 Games. The U.S. women were powered by three-time Paralympian Becca Murray’s 24.1 points per game and also went undefeated, beating reigning Paralympic champion Germany in the gold-medal game.
U.S. wheelchair racers and University of Illinois teammates Tatyana McFadden, Amanda McGrory and Chelsea McClammer completed two “McSweeps” at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, claiming all three spots on the podium in both the women’s 1,500- and 5,000-meter T54 events. In the 1,500m T54 final, McFadden took a decisive lead from the start to win in a Paralympic record time of 3:22.50, with McGrory placing second and McClammer third. Two nights later, the trio orchestrated a beautiful 5,000-meter T54 final, with McFadden making her move in the last lap to grab gold in 11:54.07, with McClammer and McGrory swapping spots this time.
Wheelchair rugby was broadcast on NBC’s main network for the first time ever, as Australia beat Team USA in one of the sport’s greatest games ever played. Team USA went into the gold-medal final undefeated and took the reigning Paralympic champions to double overtime before falling 59-58. With 111 goals in the tournament, Chuck Aoki led the silver-medal charge for the Americans. The United States now holds a 27-3 all-time record in Paralympic competition and has medaled at every Games since the sport was added to the program in 2000.
U.S. Navy veteran Andre Shelby pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Rio, climbing from a 12th seed in the archery bracket to claim gold in the men’s individual compound open event. At age 49, and with just three years of competitive archery under his belt, the first African American to compete in archery at the Paralympics pulled out comeback wins in his quarterfinal, semifinal and final matches to cap a surprising performance on the range.
Brad Snyder was voted Male Athlete of the Paralympic Games at the Team USA Awards after winning three gold medals and a silver medal at the Rio 2016 Games, and shattering a 30-year-old world record in the pool. In addition to defending his Paralympic in the 400-meter freestyle S11, he set a new world record in the 100-meter freestyle S11 with a time of 56.15 seconds. It was a mark set by fellow American John Morgan that had been on the books longer than any other para-swimming world record. Snyder also won gold in the 50-meter S11 race and tied for silver in backstroke S11 final, leaving Rio with more medals than any other U.S. Paralympic male athlete.
American women showcased their depth of talent in the pool, amassing 24 of the 37 medals won by Team USA in swimming. Jessica Long tied for the most medals by a U.S. woman in Rio, taking six pieces of hardware, including one gold, three silvers and two bronze, while Becca Meyers set three world records en route to her three gold medals and one silver. Michelle Konkoly and McKenzie Coan each left Rio with four medals, while U.S. Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks took home two.
At 19, Mikey Brannigan lived up to the hype in his highly anticipated Paralympic track-and-field debut, leading the 1,500-meter T20 final from beginning to end to claim gold in a time of 3:51.74. In the same classification on the women’s side, Breanna Clark had just as much success in her Paralympic debut, winning gold in the 400-meter. She crossed the finish line in 57.79, just one-hundredth of a second off the world record. Clark’s mother Rosalyn had also represented Team USA, winning a silver medal in the 4x400-meter at the Munich 1976 Olympic Games.
In his first Paralympic Games, David Blair won a gold medal in record-setting fashion in the men’s discus F44, breaking his former world record with a throw of 64.11 meters on his third attempt. He outperformed stalwarts like U.S. teammate and two-time Paralympic champion Jeremy Campbell, as well as Great Britain’s Dan Greaves, who medaled at each of the past four Paralympic Games, asserting himself as the new man to beat in the ring.
Four-time Paralympian Will Groulx became a two-sport Paralympic champion, winning medals in all three cycling events he entered in Rio. Already a Paralympic gold medalist in wheelchair rugby (2008), Groulx struck gold in the men’s road race H2 before winning silvers in the time trial H2 and mixed team relay H2-5 events. The U.S. Navy veteran now has six career Paralympic medals over four Paralympic Games.
After failing to qualify for the London 2012 Games, the U.S. men’s goalball team survived the “group of death” in the preliminary round, beating Asian champion China and reigning Paralympic champions Finland, and went on to claim the silver medal. The U.S. women, meanwhile, made it to the semifinals and finished the tournament with the bronze medal, redeeming itself after a fifth-place finish at the London 2012 Games. It was the first time since 2004 that both U.S. goalball teams made the Paralympic podium.
Shawn Morelli, a U.S. Army veteran wounded in Afghanistan in 2007, won Team USA’s first gold medal of the Rio Games, reigning victorious in her Paralympic debut in the 3,000-meter individual pursuit C4. The 40-year-old also struck gold in the road cycling time trial C4, as the U.S. cycling contingent won its most medals ever at the Paralympic Games with a total of 18 podium finishes.
At just 20 years old, McKenna Dahl became the first U.S. woman to win a Paralympic medal in shooting when she took bronze in the R5 (mixed 10-meter air rifle prone SH2) event. Her medal also marked the first U.S. Paralympic medal in the sport since Dan Jordan won silver at the Athens 2004 Games.
A year after taking up Paralympic sport, 24-year-old Roderick Townsend won gold medals in both the men’s long jump and high jump in the T47 class, setting Paralympic records in both events. In the latter event, he had the crowd on its feet after every jump, and fell just short of recording a world-record jump of 2.13 meters.
After finishing sixth at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the U.S. legs, trunk and arms coxed four rowing team struck silver in Rio, passing the line just 29 hundredths of a second ahead of Canada in a photo finish. The podium appearance on Sept. 11, 2016, was particularly special for Jaclyn Smith, who exactly 15 years earlier watched the second of two planes crash into the World Trade Center and then waited as her parents, both New York City police officers, went to work at Ground Zero. This year on Sept. 11, parents Jim and Annmarie were in the stands at Rio’s picturesque Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas watching their daughter — along with teammates Dorian Weber, Zachary Burns, Danielle Hansen and coxswain Jenny Sichel — win a Paralympic medal.
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.