Ben Thompson, one of the breakout stars of 2019, has a target on his back after upsetting the field to win gold in the individual men’s compound event at the 2019 world championships. His U.S. teammates are also medal contenders in Tokyo, including 2012 Paralympic silver medalist Matt Stutzman, three-time Paralympian Eric Bennett and 2016 Paralympic champion Andre Shelby. The women’s field is led by Paralympian Lia Coryell and Teresa “Tink” Wallace.
Miles Krajewski (Yankton, South Dakota) highlights the team as a top-ranked Para-badminton athlete. The 14-year-old began playing on the international stage just four years ago and won his first international singles and doubles titles at the 2016 Parapan American Championships at the age of 11. Krajewski is the highest ranked Parapan American athlete who has not qualified for the 2020 Games yet. As of February 2020, Krajewski is ranked seventh in the world, with the top-six athletes qualifying for the Games.
Athletes to watch include three promising talent transfers aiming to make the 2020 U.S. Paralympic Paracanoe Team: Blake Haxton (Columbus, Ohio), a 2016 Paralympian in rowing, Kaitlyn Verfuerth (Flagstaff, Arizona), a three-time Paralympian in wheelchair tennis, and Jack Wallace (Franklin Lakes, New Jersey), a gold medalist at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games with the U.S. sled hockey team.
Clara Brown (Falmouth, Maine) and Jason Macom (Little Rock, Arkansas) are both Paralympic hopefuls and led Team USA in medals at the 2020 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in January. Brown took home four medals, including two gold – her first world championship medals on the track. Macom’s two silver medals were his first world championship medals of his career. Both look to qualify for the Tokyo Games and continue their success.
Team USA hasn’t earned a medal in Paralympic Equestrian since 2004, but that is set to change. Rebecca Hart finished fifth in Para-dressage at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, and is headed to Tokyo with her eyes on the podium. Team USA put on a show at the World Equestrian Games, where Hart won two medals. The team captured four total medals at the Games, the first in program history. They finished a best-ever fifth in the team event, qualifying for the Tokyo Games and earning a number one team ranking in the world.
Both the men’s and women’s U.S. teams medaled four years ago at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, and will seek to continue their success on the court in Tokyo. The American women won bronze at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 and are currently led by 2016 medalists Lisa Czechowski (Boonton, New Jersey), Asya Miller (Portland, Oregon), Amanda Dennis (Peachtree City, Georgia), Eliana Mason (Beaverton, Oregon) and Marybai Huking (Salt Lake City, Utah). The U.S. men’s team will also rely heavily on its Paralympic veterans as the team will return Tyler Merren (Coral Springs, Fla.), John Kusku (Commerce Township, Michigan) and Matt Simpson (Smyrna, Georgia) among others from the squad that captured the silver medal at the 2016 Games.
Ben Goodrich (St. Paul, Minnesota) is a one-time Paralympian and will lead Team USA as a medal favorite for Tokyo 2020. Goodrich competes in the men’s 100 kg weight class. He started his judo career in 2011 when he took a physical education elective course at the University of Minnesota. He enjoyed the class and enrolled at the North Star Judo Club. Goodrich completed his degree in finance and accounting at the University of Minnesota.
Christian Largo (Glen Allen, Virginia) is just 21 years old and the youngest of the Team USA hopefuls, but will be a top athlete to watch going into Tokyo. He has already competed at two world championships for Para powerlifting and earned a gold medal at the 2018 World Para Powerlifting Americas Open Championship in the junior division at 65 kg.
The U.S. para-rowing team will have boats racing in all four events at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. While the U.S. has qualified all four boats, the rowers that will compete at the 2020 Games have not been selected yet.
In Rio, McKenna Dahl made history when she became the first woman to win a Paralympic medal in shooting for the U.S. when she won bronze in the R5 (Mixed 10m Air Rifle Prone SH2) event. At the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 – just one year from the Tokyo Games – Dahl won the gold medal in the R4 mixed 10m air rifle standing SH2 competition. Additionally, she made the final in world cup in 2019 held in Osijek, Croatia, in a new event for her which was R9 mixed 50m small bore prone SH2). Dahl won the qualification and made the final in the same R9 event again at world championships.
The American women are currently the top-ranked team in the world after defeating three-time Paralympic champion China to win its first Paralympic gold in Rio following consecutive silvers in 2008 and 2012. The U.S. women are led by several experienced players, including four-time Paralympian Lora Webster (Point Lookout, New York) who is one of nine players worldwide to compete in all four Paralympic Games for women’s sitting volleyball. On the men’s side, USA will attempt to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games. Zach Upp (Bartlett, Illinois), the youngest player for the U.S. at age 19, has become a dominant force for the Americans in being named USA Volleyball Male Sitting Player of the Year in 2019.
The second-most decorated Paralympian in U.S. history, Jessica Long aims to qualify for her fifth Paralympic Games and add to her historic 23 Paralympic medal wins. Long still remains the youngest competitor to compete at the Paralympics for Team USA, making her debut at age 12 in 2004. Long is a three-time recipient of the ESPN Best Female Athlete with a Disability ESPY Award and previously named to Sports Illustrated’s “The World’s Best Female Athletes.”
American table tennis player and USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame inductee Tahl Leibovitz (Queens, New York) shows no sign of slowing down as he prepares for his sixth Paralympic Games. He earned his first Paralympic gold medal at Atlanta 1996 and has dominated the Parapan American Games the past 15 years, racking up a whopping 17 medals in both men’s team and singles events.
Taekwondo will make its Paralympic debut at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 and Team USA will send two competitors. Brianna Salinaro (Massapequa, New York) is one of those competitors. She was the first woman to represent Team USA in Para taekwondo and also the first taekwondo athlete with cerebral palsy to fight on the world stage. The 21-year-old Salinaro competed in her second world championships in 2019, where she reached the round of 16. Two years earlier she won a world bronze medal at world championships.
17-time Paralympic medalist Tatyana McFadden is on the hunt to qualify for her sixth Paralympic Games. She currently holds the record for most track and field gold medals by an American woman, both Olympic and Paralympic. If she adds four medals to her tally in Tokyo, she will surpass Bart Dodson who is the all-time individual medal leader for Team USA in Paralympic Track and Field garnishing 20 Paralympic medals in his tenure.
Team USA looks to continue to dominate in just the second appearance of paratriathlon in Tokyo. In 2016, U.S. women won more medals in paratriathlon than any other nation. Allysa Seely, Hailey Danz and Melissa Stockwell swept the first-ever women’s PT2 medal podium, and all three have kept their pace in training and competition. On the men’s side, Chris Hammer (PTS5) and Jamie Brown (PTS4) will be chasing the podium in their respective divisions. Hammer is a three-time ITU Paratriathlon World Championships bronze medalist, while Brown has two world bronzes to his name.
Both the men’s and women’s teams will travel to Tokyo as defending gold medalists from the Rio Games. Key players in the men’s quest for Paralympic gold will be returning gold medalists Steve Serio, Matt Scott, Jake Williams and Josh Turek. Trooper Johnson, the U.S. women’s national team head coach, believes this year’s team is one of the strongest squads they have had. First-time Paralympians Rose Hollermann and Abby Dunkin have had time to develop and mesh with veteran players like Becca Murray and Natalie Schneider.
One of the team’s youngest members, 18-year-old Shelby Jensen (Salt Lake City, Utah) won silver and bronze in Category A saber and foil, respectively, at the 2018 America’s Championships and holds multiple opportunities to qualify for her first Paralympic Team as one of the few fencers to compete in all three weapons – epee, foil and saber. In each of the three possible qualification combinations, Jensen is ranked among the top 25 in the Rankings with her highest position being No. 15 in epee/saber.
Several veterans return to the wheelchair rugby team, including Joe Delagrave, Jeff Butler, Josh Wheeler, Lee Fredette and Chuck Aoki. The team looks to continue a dominating performance dating back to the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 and continuing through the 2020 season opening. The team has found a spot on the podium in every Games since the introduction of the sport at Sydney 2000 and look to find their way back to the top after their most recent silver medal in Rio 2016.
David Wagner (Walla Walla, Washinton), a four-time Paralympian and eight-time Paralympic medalist, has been one of the top names in the sport for close to 20 years. Competing in both singles and doubles, Wagner has earned a medal in both singles and doubles events with at each of the four past Paralympic Games in which he has participated. Wagner will look to team up once again with Nick Taylor (Wichita, Kansas), his doubles partner for the past four Games.