Makayla Nietzel competes at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 25, 2021 in Tokyo.
TOKYO — Makayla Nietzel and Gia Pergolini have known each other since first getting involved in Para swimming four years ago. And tonight they swam in their first Paralympic final together.
The first-time Paralympians represented Team USA in the women’s 100-meter butterfly S13 on Wednesday during night one of swimming at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Nietzel was seeded fourth headed into the finals and Pergolini was seeded seventh. Italian Carlotta Gilli held a commanding lead throughout the final to take the gold in 1:02:65 – four-tenths of a second off the world record. Pergolini challenged for silver touching the wall second at the 50-meter mark but fell back to finish fifth in 1:06:46. Nietzel took seventh in 1:08:00. Team USA’s Martha Ruether finished 13th, missing the finals.
Between the morning and night sessions, both Pergolini and Nietzel dropped time and spoke highly of their first races in the competition pool.
“Honestly I have a lot of fun in this pool,” Nietzel said. “I love swimming fly. It’s so amazing for me to compete here. I did add a second from prelims, but you know what, it happens. It’s not the end of the world.”
Despite missing the podium, both girls were thrilled at the chance to race together in their first Paralympic final.
“I’ve known Makayla for a while now,” Pergolini said. “So just sharing this opportunity with another VI [visually impaired athlete], especially this one, is amazing. … We both love representing this country. It’s so crazy being our age...we’re teenagers. It’s just crazy swimming in a final.”
The pair said it also meant a lot to them to compete at such a high level after the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Honestly, it’s awesome just being able to compete after COVID and everything,” Nietzel said. “Personally the thing that stands out the most to me is how supportive our team has been. It has been incredible. We’ve gotten so much support, so much love from Team USA; it’s amazing.”
Pergolini echoed her sentiments, saying she felt fortunate to even be here competing after the Games were postponed.
“Just touching the wall and looking around to see where you’re at — it’s just crazy,” Pergolini said. “This is five years in the making for both of us. Being able to be here with the people that you love, the people that you’ve been with for the past few years training with. It’s just crazy, and I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
Pergolini said she’s fired up after her opening swims on day one. She will feature in the 100-meter backstroke S13 on Thursday night. Nietzel will be back in action on Friday in the 400-meter freestyle S13.