Anastasia Pagonis celebrates winning a gold medal at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 26, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
TOKYO - Team USA’s Anastasia Pagonis and Gia Pergolini captured Team USA’s first gold medals of the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 in Thursday night’s swimming finals.
The pair of teenagers put down blazing fast times in their respective qualifying heats and lowered their own world records in the finals to win gold. Both girls compete in classifications for athletes with visual impairments.
Pagonis made her Paralympic debut winning gold in the women’s 400-meter freestyle S11 with a new world record of 4:54:49. Liesette Bruinsma of the Netherlands took silver in 5:05:34 and China’s Liwen Cai finished for bronze in 5:07:56. Team USA’s McClain Hermes finished sixth.
Pagonis’ swim in Thursday’s final resembled her Olympic counterpart Katie Ledecky with the closest swimmer several body lengths behind. She also smashed her world record by two seconds in the process.
Pagonis said winning Team USA’s first gold medal of the Tokyo Paralympics has been an unreal experience.
“If you told me this a few years ago, I wouldn’t even think I’d be alive so just being here and being able to have this experience and this opportunity – unbelievable,” Pagonis said.
Pagonis burst on the scene as one of Team USA’s standout stars in the last year. At July’s U.S. Paralympic Team Trials, she set a world record in the 400-meter freestyle and broke several American records.
She’s also one of Team USA’s most social media savvy Paralympians in Tokyo, using her platform to educate people about how she navigates the world as a blind person. The 17-year-old swimmer has more than two million TikTok followers cheering her on from around the world.
Pagonis is loving her first Games so far, especially being able to bond and support her teammates. At just 17 years old, she said she was still processing her golden moment but shared a message of hope for her friends and fans back home.
“We did it,” Pagonis said. “You can do anything you put your mind to. Never feel hopeless because anything is possible.”
Pagonis wanted to wait until the end of the week to decide if this is the best race of her life. She’ll be back on the clock for Team USA in the 50 and 100 meter freestyles and 200 IM later this week.