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U.S. Women Go 1-2 In 200 IM SM7; Robert Griswold Swims World Record For Backstroke Gold

By Katie Grunik | Aug. 27, 2021, 12:04 p.m. (ET)

Ahalya Lettenberger, Mallory Weggemann and Tiffany Thomas Kane pose during the women’s 200m individual medley - SM7 medal ceremony at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 27, 2021 in Tokyo. 

 

For the first time at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, two American flags were raised during the medal ceremony as the Star Spangled Banner played. 

Mallory Weggemann and Ahalya Lettenberger took gold and silver respectively in the women’s 200-meter Individual Medley SM7. Australia’s Tiffany Thomas Kane came in third for the bronze. 

Weggemann, a three-time Paralympian, missed the podium in Rio and had not medaled since the Paralympic Games London 2012. She said she’s been manifesting that gold medal in her head for the last nine years. 

“I think most of all I’m overwhelmed in all the best ways,” Weggemann said. “I’m filled with so much gratitude for my community that has been a part of this journey and so much pride in what this represents. It’s been almost nine years since I’ve been atop the Paralympic podium, and I have been fighting for it every second.” 

She said winning gold alongside her teammate was a special moment for both of them. 

“Seeing Ahalya take silver was remarkable,” Weggemann said. “When I looked over her eyes were already welling up. She has that pure joy of her first Paralympic games and her first Paralympic final. To see her come out a silver medalist is truly remarkable.”

It was a dream first Games for Lettenberger. 

She began swimming in 2011 after experiencing pain in her hip while playing sports like football and softball. She was introduced to swimming as an alternative and grew up watching Weggemann compete for Team USA. 

“Mallory has been a role model and an amazing teammate,” Lettenberger said. “I remember when I started swimming, and she was the gold medalist. I could never imagine swimming in a Paralympic final with her and medaling with her. Words can’t describe what it means to get this opportunity.” 

“I still remember my first meet with Ahalya back in 2015 at the Parapan American Games,” Weggemann said. “Seeing how much she’s grown and everything she’s doing not just swimming but out of the pool as well has been really remarkable. I know that her future is very bright and I cannot wait to watch.” 

Though gold was her goal, Weggemann said becoming Paralympic champion is about more than the times and medals for her. It’s about helping others feel seen and inspiring the next generation.

“For anybody, I hope this can be a small symbol of the fact that dreams are resilient as long as you’re willing to show up, fight and stay true to who you are along the way,” Weggemann said. 

Both Weggemann and Lettenberger will look to add to their medal counts in the coming days. Lettenberger will swim the 400-meter freestyle S7 on Sunday. Weggemann has five more chances at a medal with plans to compete in the 50 and 100-meter freestyles, 50-meter butterfly, 100-meter backstroke and 100-meter breaststroke.  

Robert Griswold celebrates winning gold in the men’s 100-meter backstroke S8 at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on August 27, 2021 in Tokyo

 

Griswold Wins His First Paralympic Gold In 100 Backstroke

Two-time Paralympian Robert Griswold brought home gold in the men’s 100-meter backstroke S8, setting a new world record of 1:02:55. Spain’s Inigo Llopis Sanz took silver, and Fengqi Liu followed for bronze. Team USA’s Joey Peppersack placed seventh. 

Griswold came into this final the defending world champion and Rio 2016 bronze medalist. He said it felt amazing to capture gold in his signature event. 

“I’ve been reflecting on it over the last few minutes, and I just had more peace than I’ve ever had before a race,” Griswold said. “I felt peace knowing that I’ve got a family and friends who love me and people who really value me and care about me. I carried that with me, and I’m trying to do the best I can and give back to the people who’ve given so much to me.” 

Griswold said he’s been training his starts intensely in the one-year delay and studying his competitor’s races. He spoke highly of everyone in the final tonight, saying how glad he was that they were all racing together again. 

“In S8, we have a special bond,” Griswold said. “We’re brothers no matter what country you’re from. We all respect each other and value each other’s company. Today we talked about how much we value having each other back and that’s something we missed during our time away because of the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Griswold especially loved competing alongside his teammate Joey Peppersack, who made his Paralympic debut in Toyko. The pair first met in 2014 and have been competing together since they were teenagers. 

“Joey’s been a brother to me for so long,” Griswold said. “I’ve gotten to see him grow from a young kid into an amazing young man and somebody who I consider as one of my dear closest friends. We have a picture of us with this big group of guys from a meet in 2014. We were looking at it in training camp thinking we were the ones who made it.” 

Peppersack said Robert has been sharing words of wisdom with him for years. After achieving his goal of making it to the finals, Peppersack said his first Games has been incredible so far.  

“This has been my dream for so long and just to finally be able to experience it has been amazing,” Peppersack said. 

 

Jessica Long smiles after winning bronze in the 100-meter backstroke S8 at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 27, 2021 in Tokyo. 

 

Jessica Long Ups Her Medal Count To 24 With Backstroke Bronze

Team USA’s most decorated currently competing para swimmer made a statement in her first final of the Tokyo Paralympics. Jessica Long added number 24 – a bronze - to her Paralympic medal tally. 

Long took bronze in the women’s 100-meter backstroke S8 with a time of 1:18:55. New Zealand’s Tupou Neiufi won gold in 1:16:84, and Ukraine’s Kateryna Denysenko just out-touched Long for silver. 

Long said she was excited to medal in backstroke, something she doesn’t consider to be her strongest event, and happy to have her first race in the books. 

“It’s always good to get the first one out of the way,” Long said. “The pool felt fast, but I also just spent my first swim remembering how to race. A lot of our events are straight to finals so I’m just kind of playing around with that and readjusting. It was a great first race, and the nerves are out of the way.” 

Long was already anticipating her 200 Individual Medley on Saturday. Her Paralympic program includes four other medal chances. For now, she planned to soak up every moment of her fifth Paralympics with her teammates. 

“All the parents and a lot of other people wrote us letters that they left on our beds when we got here,” Long said. “In my dad’s letter, he said ‘you are already a champion.’ And I’m like I don’t have pressure to do anything. Just keep tallying up the medal count. So, 24 - pretty cool.” 

Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo-2020-Paralympic-Games to view the medal table and results.

Katie Grunik

Katie Grunik is a digital content creator covering the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 for TeamUSA.org. She currently serves as the digital content coordinator for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.

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