16 Breakout Athletes Of 2016

By Brianna Tammaro | Dec. 30, 2016, 11:10 a.m. (ET)

Behind the medals won, the records broken and the standards set were the athletes who made this year one to remember with standout performances on the world stage at the Paralympic Games and beyond. See which Team USA athletes had a breakout year in 2016.

Josh Brewer - Wheelchair Rugby

Brewer made the crossover to wheelchair rugby from basketball in 2016. Since then, his meteoric rise in wheelchair rugby was seen most profoundly in his contributions to his team’s offensive efforts. Brewer was a standout on the international scene from the start with strong play at the 2016 Canada Cup where the U.S. finished on top. He then made his Paralympic debut at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and was one of Team USA’s top scorers with 44 goals.

McKenzie Coan - Swimming

After coming up short at the 2012 Games, Coan had the performance of her life in Rio, winning four medals in the pool, three of which were gold. The 20-year-old earned individual gold medals in the 50-, 100- and 400-meter free for the women’s S7 classification while adding silver with the women’s 4x100 freestyle relay for her first career Paralympic medals.

McKenna Dahl - Shooting

Dahl had a historic performance in Rio, becoming the first U.S. woman to win a medal for her country in shooting. The youngest member of the U.S. Paralympic Shooting Team took home bronze in the R5 (Mixed 10m Air Rifle Prone SH2) event, holding her own as the youngest at age 20 and only woman in the field. Dahl’s medal win marks the first Games medal in shooting since Dan Jordan won silver in Men’s Three-Position Rifle in 2004. Earlier in the year, she also made finals appearances in three of the IPC Shooting World Cups for R4 (Mixed 10m Air Rifle Standing SH2) and R5 (Mixed 10m Air Rifle Prone SH2).

Eric Eierdam - Skeleton

Eierdam made history in 2016, winning gold at the inaugural Para-skeleton World Championship this past March in Park City, Utah. The Las Vegas native, who also captured his second-straight world cup overall title, solidified his place as the best in the world this year by clocking in nearly four seconds ahead of the second place competitor to take the win.

Declan Farmer - Sled Hockey
Declan Farmer Rio 2016
Though he’s just 19, Farmer has the resume of a seasoned veteran on the U.S. national sled hockey team. Since joining the roster in 2012, he has helped Team USA to Paralympic gold, the 2015 world title and three-straight championships of the annual World Sled Hockey Challenge. Farmer led the tournament in goals (8), assists (9) and points (17) while also breaking the U.S. record in all three categories for the most in a single World Sled Hockey Challenge. He was also named the U.S. Player of the Game in a 2-1 overtime victory over Canada before defeating them again in the gold medal game.

Will Groulx - Cycling

In his Paralympic cycling debut, Groulx medaled in every event he entered in Rio as he won gold in the men's H2 road race, silver in the H2 time trial and silver in the mixed team relay H2-5. He helped Team USA to its best cycling performance at a Paralympic Games, producing 18 medals to finish second in overall medals. Groulx, a four-time Paralympian, is now a two-sport Paralympic champion after previously winning gold in wheelchair rugby at the 2008 Games.

Gianfranco Iannotta - Track and Field
Gianfranco Iannotta Rio 2016
Iannotta emerged as one of Team USA’s exciting young talents at the Rio Games, capturing Team USA’s first gold medal on the track when he upset defending Paralympic champion and U.S. teammate Ray Martin in the men’s 100-meter T52. He also won bronze in the 400-meter to take home two medals at his first Paralympic Games.

Michelle Konkoly - Swimming

Konkoly made her name known at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, winning four medals, including standing at the top of the podium twice in Rio. The 24-year-old won gold medals in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle in her S9 classification while setting a world record in the 100 free. She also won a silver medal in the 4x100 free and a bronze in the 4x100 medley to come away with an impressive haul in her Paralympic debut. Not just a standout in the pool, Konkoly will trade the pool for the classroom when she begins medical school at Thomas Jefferson University in August.

Mike Minor - Snowboarding

In his first two international seasons with Team USA, Minor rose to the top of the world rankings in the men’s upper limb impairment class with banked slalom victories in Landgraaf, Netherlands and Big White, British Columbia to capture his first overall world cup globe. He built on his rookie season success at the 2016-17 IPC Snowboard World Cup opener where he struck back-to-back banked slalom gold in Landgraaf, Netherlands to get another strong start to the season.

Shawn Morelli - Cycling

Winning the first medal for the U.S. Paralympic Team in Rio, Morelli was perfect in her Games debut, capturing two gold medals in cycling to lead the Team USA women. She won her first gold in track cycling in the women's C4 3,000-meter individual pursuit and her second gold in the women’s C4 road time trial. Morelli had a target on her back coming into the Games, winning her first track cycling world title earlier in the year and setting a world record in the women’s C4 3-kilometer pursuit at the 2016 UCI Para-cycling World Championships.

Becca Murray - Wheelchair Basketball

The three-time Paralympian was an instrumental part of the U.S. women’s offense, leading Team USA in scoring in Rio with 169 points and an average of 24.1 points per game to claim gold after coming up short of the podium in 2012. Murray finished fourth in assists and was the offensive leader in the gold-medal game, scoring over half of the team’s points (33) to defeat reigning Paralympic champions Germany.

Nicky Nieves - Sitting Volleyball
Nicky Nieves Rio 2016
Nieves was an integral part of the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team that had a remarkable 2016. Team USA finished the year with a 21-3 overall record that included gold medals at the World ParaVolley Intercontinental Cup, the Dutch Tournament and the Paralympic Games. In her Paralympic debut, Nieves helped the team make history by winning its first Paralympic title against China. She was named as USA Volleyball’s Female Sitting Most Improved Player of the Year after scoring 73 kills, 35 blocks and 33 aces for 141 total points in the 2016 season while converting 32.0 percent of her attacks into points with a .215 hitting efficiency.

Grace Norman - Paratriathlon and Track and Field

At just 18 years old, Norman showed poise beyond her years as the youngest in the field, becoming the first woman to win Paratriathlon gold in the sports’ Paralympic debut. Winning by over a minute in the women’s PT2 event, the first-time Paralympian turned around less than 36 hours later to capture bronze on the track in the women’s T44 400-meter. In July, she also won the PT4 world title at the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships and the 400-meter at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials – Track and Field.

Andre Shelby - Archery

At his first Paralympic Games, Andre Shelby overcame adversity to climb from a 12th place seed to capturing gold in the men’s individual compound open division and his first Paralympic title. The U.S. Navy veteran also won bronze earlier in the year at the 2016 SoCal Showdown where he competed against some of the top able-bodied competitors in the nation in the combined class.


Hunter Woodhall - Track and Field
Hunter Woodhall Rio 2016
Woodhall emerged as one of the standout young stars of Team USA after his two-medal performance at the Rio Games. Setting two American records in the process, the high school senior took silver and bronze in the 400 T43/44 and 200 T43/44, respectively, in his Paralympic Games debut at the age of 17. Earlier this year, he won the boys 5A title in the 400 at the 2016 Utah UHSAA State Track & Field Championships against able-bodied runners.

Deja Young - Track and Field
Deja Young Rio 2016
In her Paralympic debut, Young dashed to gold twice in the women’s 100-meter and 200 T45/46/47 to solidify her place as the best in the world. Though she’s only in her second year competing with Team USA, the 20-year-old is in her third season with the Wichita State University track and field program.