McKenzie Coan poses during the medal ceremony for the women's 400-meter freestyle - S7 final during the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 29, 2021 in Tokyo.
For the first few days of the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, McKenzie Coan could only watch her teammates swim and await her turn to get in the pool.
And that doesn’t even compare to having to wait the extra year to finally get to Tokyo.
Her chance finally came on Sunday with the opportunity to defend her gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle S7, and her victory headlined a four-medal night for the U.S.
Coan kicked off her third Paralympics by winning gold in a final that included two other U.S. swimmers. The 25-year-old from Clarkesville, Georgia, clocked in at 5:05.84, with Julia Gaffney winning bronze in 5:11.89 and Ahalya Lettenberger just off the podium with a fourth-place finish in 5:13.55. Giulia Terzi of Italy won silver.
“To be able to come back here and defend it, it’s been a really long five years,” Coan said. “There’s been a lot of hard things these five years. To be able to come here, especially after the last year, what the world has gone through, it’s just nice to come here and do something that makes you smile and makes you happy, so I think it means even more.”
This is Coan’s fourth gold medal, and her fifth medal overall. She also won gold in the 50- and 100 freestyles in Rio, and she has both races still to come in Tokyo, along with the 100-meter backstroke and the 50-meter butterfly.
For Gaffney, who’s competing in her first Paralympics, the medal came just two days after she was disqualified in the 200-meter individual medley.
“I had to move on and I’m so happy that I was able to bounce back and get a bronze for Team USA,” said Gaffney, 21, of Mayflower, Arkansas. “I just had to know that I had other chances to get on the podium. I felt really calm in the call-room and just, I was ready to get it done.”