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Eight Athletes To Watch At Para Track And Field Nationals

By Lela Moore | June 15, 2022, 10:36 a.m. (ET)

With this year’s world championships being postponed again due to the pandemic, the 2022 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships now gets the spotlight as the biggest Para track event of the year for American athletes. 

More than 80 athletes will convene in Miramar, Florida, from Thursday through Saturday for the meet. A third of those athletes competed at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. 

After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the postponement of the Paralympics, and facing a truncated preparation period for the Paralympic Games Paris 2024, this year’s meet represents the end of a whirlwind period of training and peaking right as another busy — and condensed — Paralympic quad begins. 

Although this year’s nationals won’t lead to the world championships as expected, the event continues what’s been a fruitful season for many U.S. athletes.

For example, just last week several top Americans competed in the World Para Grand Prix in Paris, using the meet to fine-tune their events for nationals. Team USA returned with 15 medals, including eight golds, all won by Paralympians. Now many of them will test their speed and power stateside this weekend. 

Here are eight athletes to watch this week:

Josh Cinnamo competes during the men's shot put F46 ambulatory final at the 2021 U.S. Paralympic Trials on June 17, 2021 in Minneapolis.

 

Mikey Brannigan

A Paralympic gold medalist at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 in the 1,500-meter, Brannigan placed fourth in the same event in Tokyo. He comes into Florida hot after winning the same event in Paris last week. The 25-year-old is highly accomplished on the world stage, having also won five medals — three of them gold — at the world championships over the years. Brannigan, who is autistic, attended Suffolk County Community College near his hometown of Northport, New York, and races for the New York Athletic Club in addition to being a member of Team USA.

Josh Cinnamo

Cinnamo — the world record holder and Paralympic bronze medalist in the shot put F46 — won the F42/46 shot put in Paris last week with a 15.92-meter throw. In 2019, Cinnamo won gold in the shot put at both the world championships in Dubai and at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019. Cinnamo, a married dad of two, transitioned to Para sports from CrossFit a decade ago and has made his mark on his signature event, setting multiple world records in the F46 classification.

Hannah Dederick competes during the women's 800-meter T54 final at the 2021 Desert Challenge Games on May 29, 2021 in Mesa, Ariz.

 

Hannah Dederick

On June 11, Dederick placed third in the storied New York Road Runners Mini 10K. This year marked the 50th anniversary of the historically women-only race. Dederick, a rising college sophomore, attends the University of Illinois, where she competes on their wheelchair track team. A four-time gold medalist at both the 2017 and the 2019 World Para Athletics Junior Championships, Dederick placed fourth in the 100-meter in Tokyo. And, oh yeah, she’s only 19.

Jessie Heims

In April, Heims set a world record in the discus F64 at the Drake Relays with a throw of 37.23 meters. She took home a bronze in the discus in Paris last week. A two-time Paralympian, Heims improved to fifth place in the discus in Tokyo after taking eighth in 2016 (where she also raced the 400-meter). Heims graduated in 2021 from Northern Iowa University, where she competed as a discus thrower and a sprinter. She has since opted to focus solely on the discus, which will be her event at nationals.

Gianfranco Iannotta during the 400-meter T52 at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 15, 2021 in Tokyo.

 

Samantha Heyison

One of the brightest young stars in the sport, Heyison won gold in the discus and shot put at the Desert Challenge Games in May in Mesa, Arizona, and earlier this month she added silver medals in both the discus and the shot put in Paris. And she hasn’t even graduated from high school. The rising senior at Urbana High School in Maryland competes against able-bodied athletes and was the state champion in the discus this year. Heyison was named one of the 2021 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field High School Athletes of the Year. Her long-term goal is to compete in the Paris Games in 2024.

Gianfranco Iannotta

Iannotta has been one of the world’s top sprinters in the T52 classification for years now. After winning Paralympic gold in the 100-meter and bronze in the 400-meter in 2016, he placed fourth in the 400 and sixth in the 100 in Tokyo. More recently, Iannotta brought home a silver medal in the 100 from the grand prix in Paris. Iannotta lives and trains near his hometown of Garfield, New Jersey, where he competed in a variety of Para sports as a child and found he excelled at sprinting.

Justin Phongsavanh competes during the men's javelin throw F54/F57 final at the 2021 U.S. Paralympic Trials on June 19, 2021 in Minneapolis.

 

Justin Phongsavanh

In Tokyo, Phongsavanh won bronze in the javelin F54. That’s the same event in which he broke the F54/F57 world record during the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials in July 2021. His world record throw of 33.29 meters was a full meter farther than the previous record. Phongsavanh is coming off a silver in the javelin in Paris. Paralyzed in a shooting in 2015, Phongsavanh, who had been a multi-sport athlete in high school in Iowa, quickly ascended the Para track and field ranks. 

Daniel Romanchuk

In 2019, Romanchuk became the first American to win the Boston Marathon in 26 years, and he’s been on a roll practically ever since. He followed up that feat with wins at the London, Chicago and New York City marathons that year — defending his own titles in the latter two. The success continued on the Paralympic stage in Tokyo, where Romanchuk won bronze in the marathon and gold in the 400. Already this season, Romanchuk won his second Boston Marathon in April. A Maryland native, Romanchuk developed into a star as part of the esteemed program at the University of Illinois.

Lela Moore

Lela Moore is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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