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Leanne Smith’s 7-For-7 Leads Team USA’s Medal Haul At Para Swimming Worlds

By Paul D. Bowker | June 19, 2022, 12:22 p.m. (ET)

Leanne Smith competes in the women's 50-meter breaststroke finals at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 31, 2021 in Tokyo.


Leanne Smith finished off her week of perfection Saturday in the Para Swimming World Championships in Madeira, Portugal, capturing two gold medals and a world record.

Smith, who won a silver medal in his Paralympic debut last summer in Tokyo, went 7-for-7 in Madeira and helped lead the U.S. to a treasure haul of 24 gold medals and 40 overall medals at the seven-day meet. The only nation with more gold medals was Italy with 27.

Smith was the only swimmer of any country to win seven golds.

“I didn’t know that,” the Salem, Massachusetts, native said. “I’m really happy that I was able to get through this week strong, but this is definitely a nice accolade to have.”

Smith had the most dominating world meet since Jessica Long won nine gold medals in 2006.

And yet she was hardly alone in her Madeira successes.

McKenzie Coan, a three-time Paralympian, swept the 50-, 100- and 400-meter freestyle S7 events, including the 100 with a time of 1:09.65 Saturday. She repeated a feat she accomplished at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016.

“I couldn’t have gone into this meet expecting something like this to happen,” said Coan, who also won a silver and bronze medal in Madeira. “To be able to do this clean sweep, honestly it’s something I never thought I’d be able to do again.”

Both Coan and fellow Paralympic medalist Robert Griswold three-peated in their signature events, with Coan doing so in the 400 free and Griswold in the 100-meter backstroke S8. The U.S. standouts also won those events last year in Tokyo.

Two-time Paralympian Griswold won three gold medals, and six overall, in Madeira. He dedicated his win in the men’s 200-meter individual medley SM8 to late Ukrainian Para swimmer Denys Dubrov, an 11-time Paralympic medalist who won the event in Tokyo and died in May at age 33.

“It was such an honor to race with him,” Griswold said after Friday’s race. “He’s in my heart because I know if he was here, he was the better athlete. I want to take today to remember him and remember all the great things he did for both the able-bodied and Para swimming worlds.”

Anastasia Pagonis, a two-time medalist in her Paralympic Games debut last year and gold medalist in the 400 freestyle, was 3-for-3 in her swims. She won the 400 free S11 Saturday after winning the 100 free and 200 IM earlier in the week.

Gia Pergolini, who won a gold medal in the women’s 100-meter backstroke in her Paralympic debut in Tokyo, won five medals this week, including gold in the 100 backstroke and 100 freestyle S13.

Colleen Young, a three-time Paralympian, won two gold medals, including the 200-meter IM SM13 on Saturday when she and Pergolini finished first and third, respectively. Her win earlier in the week in the 150-meter IM SM3 included an American record.

Elizabeth Marks, a five-time Paralympic medalist and a Sergeant First Class in the Army, won a gold medal in the women’s 50-meter butterfly S6 Saturday and was part of a world-record performance in the 4x50-meter medley relay 20 points on the third night of the meet. Also on that squad were Smith, Rudy Garcia-Tolson and Abbas Karimi.

Then, there were the stories of Morgan Ray, a 19-year-old University of North Florida student who barely missed out on making the U.S. Paralympics Team last year, and 15-year-old Utah homeschooler Audrey Kim, the youngest athlete on the team.

Ray won a silver medal Friday in the men’s 100-meter breaststroke SB6. Kim was on the mixed 4x100 freestyle relay 34-point squad that won a silver medal Saturday in a race that was won by Spain in world-record time. She joined Coan, Griswold and Paralympic medalist Jamal Hill on that team.

But the star of the meet was clearly Smith.

The 34-year-old began the week by breaking an American record and defending her world title in the women’s 50-meter breaststroke SB3. Saturday, she finished the meet even stronger, breaking the world record in the 100-meter freestyle for the second time in three months while also winning the 200 free. Her time of 1:27.62 in the 100 beat her previous world record, set at the Para Swim World Series in Indianapolis, by more than two seconds. It was also her second world record of the meet, after she tied the 50-meter freestyle S3 mark on Thursday.

“The 100 freestyle is my favorite race, I’ve looked forward to it all week long,” she said. “It’s one that I’ve swam since the very beginning. There’s lots of memories there. I just love it.”

Paul D. Bowker

Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Jamal Hill