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World Records Were No Match For These Team USA Paralympians In Tokyo

By Bob Reinert | Sept. 07, 2021, 2:13 p.m. (ET)

Breanna Clark celebrates after competing in the women’s 400-meter T20 final at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 31, 2021 in Tokyo.

 

Along with the medals they brought home, a handful of American athletes in swimming and track and field also collected world records during their recent trips to Tokyo.

The U.S. Paralympians will no doubt continue to push the limits of what’s possible in their respective sports as they look forward to Paris in 2024. Here’s a look at those record-setting stars.

Track and Field

Breanna Clark

Los Angeles native Breanna Clark set the world mark in the women’s 400-meter T20 final, sprinting across the finish line in 55.18 seconds in the rain. The performance broke her own record of 55.99 seconds, set in 2018.

“I felt great,” Clark said. “I saw that one coming. I did it despite the bad weather.”

It was the second straight gold medal in the 400-meter for the 26-year-old Clark, who also won the event in Rio. She is the reigning world champion, as well. 

Clark is coached by her mother, Rosalyn Clark, who won a silver medal for the U.S. in the 1976 Olympic Games in the 4x400-meter relay.
 

Nick Mayhugh competes in the men’s 200-meter T37 Final at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 4, 2021 in Tokyo.

 

Nick Mayhugh

Nick Mayhugh set world records in three events and medaled in all four events in which he competed in Tokyo. Three of those medals were gold.

The 25-year-old from Manassas, Virginia, twice broke the world record in the men’s 100- and 200-meter T37. His top marks, both set in the finals, were 10.95 in the 100 and 21.91 in the 200.

In between, Mayhugh was part of the Americans’ world record in the first-ever 4x100-meter universal relay, which also featured Tatyana McFadden, Brittni Mason and Noah Malone. They posted a time of 45.52 seconds.

Mayhugh converted himself from a soccer player to a track and field athlete just 18 months ago. He was the U.S. Soccer Player of the Year with a Disability in 2019.

“I know I’ll never be able to run 9.5 (seconds in the 100 meters), but I want to be the Usain Bolt of the Paralympics,” Mayhugh said. “I want to be that standard for kids looking up and to know that even if you are disabled, there isn’t a negative connotation to it anymore.

“You set your own limits. You believe in yourself, and you set your own barrier and surpass it. Be as successful as you want to be.”

Roderick Townsend competes in the men’s long jump T47 final at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 31, 2021 in Tokyo.

 

Roderick Townsend

Roderick Townsend broke his own world record in the men’s high jump T47 with a best effort of 2.15 meters. Townsend’s previous mark of 2.14 was set in 2019.

Not bad for someone who contemplated retirement in 2018.

“I wanted to retire because I felt burned out. I was doing a lot,” Townsend, of Stockton, California, said. “I took three weeks off. I called it done. And then doubts started to creep in. I just couldn't live the rest of my life wondering, ‘What if?’”

The decision to stick with it paid off in Tokyo, as the 29-year-old won his fourth medal — and his third gold — in a pair of Games. He also won a silver medal in the long jump T47 in Tokyo.

“I am extremely excited,” Townsend said. “It means so much to come out here and defend my championship. It is not often that people get to do this. 

“It’s been on my mind, obviously. But I love the pressure, I love being able to rise to the occasion. It really brings the best out of me. That's why we were able to see a world record today.”

Anastasia Pagonis practices leading into the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 22, 2021 in Tokyo.

 

Swimming

Anastasia Pagonis

Anastasia Pagonis lowered her own world record in the women’s 400-meter freestyle S11 to 4 minutes, 54.49 seconds in taking the gold medal.

The 17-year-old from Long Island, New York, had set the world record of 4:56.16 in June at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials in Minneapolis. To boot, her win in the event in Tokyo marked Team USA’s first gold medal there. She’d go on to win a bronze medal as well in the 200 individual medley SM11.

“I knew that I always swim better at night,” said Pagonis, one of seven U.S. athletes under 18 at the Paralympics, “and I just needed to have my ‘warm-up’ in the morning and get used to the pool and get the nerves out, because I was super-nervous this morning.

“I was able to swim against the best athletes in the world, so it was pretty awesome.”

Robert Griswold celebrates after competing in the men’s 100-meter butterfly S8 final at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 3, 2021 in Tokyo.

 

Robert Griswold

Robert Griswold swam to a new world record of 1 minute, 2.55 seconds in the 100-meter backstroke S8 in the event final at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre. The previous mark of 1:02.90 was set by China’s Zhou Cong at the Rio Games in 2016.

“It feels amazing,” said Griswold, of Freehold, New Jersey, who also won a gold medal in the 100 butterfly S8. “I’ve worked for five years. I remember this record took a big jump down in Rio, and I was in that race. Woke up the next day and I said, ‘How can I get down to 1:02.90?’

“I completely revamped my start in the last year, and that’s down to the (Covid-19) pandemic. I figured out how to use the wedge in a different way to make it work for myself and my limited joint movement.”

Elizabeth Marks competes in the women’s 100-meter backstroke S6 final at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 3, 2021 in Tokyo.

 

Elizabeth Marks 

Among the full set of medals Elizabeth Marks won in Tokyo — gold, silver and bronze — the Colorado Springs, Colorado, resident won the women’s 100-meter backstroke S6, shattering the world record in the process.

Her time of 1:19.57 bettered the record established at Rio 2016 by Song Lingling of China, who had swum 1:21.43.

“There’s so many people that put so much time and energy into me that I hope this just shows how grateful I am,” said Marks, one of three active duty military members on Team USA, “and there’s a lot of people who don't get the opportunity to race, so I try to do them proud, as well.

“Swimming is great, is a chance where I get to just zone out and put my body through as much pain as possible and enjoy the process. I think that I love swimming, and as long as I still love it and have a healthy relationship with it, I’ll keep doing it.”

Gia Pergolini celebrates after competing in the women’s 100-meter backstroke S13 final at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 26, 2021 in Tokyo.

 

Gia Pergolini

Pagonis wasn’t the only 17-year-old swimmer to set a world record in Tokyo — not even on the day. Also on Aug. 26, shortly after Pagonis won gold in the 400, Gia Pergolini of Atlanta set the women’s 100-meter backstroke S13 world record during the heats, then lowered it by almost half a second in the finals to 1:04:64.

The previous record had been held by Italy’s Carlotta Gilli, set earlier this year at 1:05.56.

“It’s surreal,” Pergolini said said. “I’ve been thinking about this moment for the past five years. This past year I was thinking about it day and night. There are so many emotions finally seeing all my hard work pay off. Representing my country and getting them a gold medal is just crazy.”

Bob Reinert spent 17 years writing sports for The Boston Globe. He also served as a sports information director at Saint Anselm College and Phillips Exeter Academy. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

Bob Reinert

Bob Reinert spent 17 years writing sports for The Boston Globe. He also served as a sports information director at Saint Anselm College and Phillips Exeter Academy. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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