U.S. Paralympics athletes have long had success at the ESPY Awards in the two Para-affiliated categories, and Team USA again dominates the nominations in the 2021 edition of the awards.
Five U.S. Para athletes have been nominated in “Best Athlete with a Disability, Women’s Sports” and “Best Athlete with a Disability, Men’s Sports” categories. The three women’s nominees are cyclist Sam Bosco, multi-sport star Oksana Masters and swimmer Leanne Smith. The men are swimmer Evan Austin and snowboarder Keith Gabel. Fans will vote for one of four athletes nominated in each category.
The ESPYs — Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Awards — will be televised live Saturday, July 10 from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. EDT on ABC. Fans can cast their votes online until Friday, July 9 at 8 p.m. EDT at https://www.espn.com/espys.
This 29th edition of the ESPYs will be held at The Rooftop at Pier 17 at South Street Seaport in New York City. Anthony Mackie, star of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” will serve as host. The first ESPYS were awarded in 1993.
The two “Athlete with a Disability” categories were added to the ESPYS in 2005. The first female and male winners, respectively, were 14-time Paralympic gold medalist swimmer Erin Popovich and two-time Paralympic gold medalist track and field athlete Marlon Shirley.
Swimmer Jessica Long, one of the most successful Paralympic athletes ever, leads the female category with three all-time wins. No male athlete in the category has won more than one ESPY. American athletes have won all but one ESPY in the category’s history.
ESPYs were not awarded in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but winners in the two disability categories in 2019 were Mark Barr and Allysa Seely, a pair of Team USA paratriathletes. Both were coming off undefeated, world championship seasons. Many of this year’s nominees are in prime form heading into Tokyo.
At last month’s U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for Cycling in Minneapolis, Bosco (Claremont, California) won the 17-kilometer time trial in a time of 24 minutes, 15.87 seconds. Bosco, 34, also won the C4 time trial and road race at a UCI Para-cycling World Cup event in May in Ostend, Belgium.
The 2016 Paralympian won bronze medals in the road time trial and track pursuit at the Rio Games and hopes to strike gold in Tokyo. She has earned a total of 10 world championship medals, including a gold in the pursuit in 2017.
Masters has been nominated six times for an ESPY but has yet to bring home the trophy. It’s the most nominations ever in the category without a win. All the other U.S. Paralympic women’s and men’s athletes are first-time nominees this year.
A Louisville, Kentucky, resident, Masters personifies versatility, having won eight Paralympic medals in three sports — rowing, Nordic skiing and biathlon — over a span of four Games. She now hopes to add one in cycling in Tokyo after placing fourth in the road race and fifth in the time trial at Rio in 2016.
The Ukraine native also owns 16 pieces of world championship hardware, nine of them gold.
At the same World Cup event where Bosco won a pair of gold medals, the 32-year-old Masters rode to victory in the H5 time trial and claimed silver in the road race.
Meanwhile, Smith has made a big splash in the pool recently. After coming home from the Lewisville 2021 Para Swimming World Series with a pair of gold medals, Smith qualified for the Tokyo Games at last month’s Paralympic swimming trials in Minneapolis, where she set a new world record of 54.20 seconds in the S3 50-meter backstroke.
A 33-year-old Salem, Massachusetts, resident, Smith will be making her Paralympic debut. She began swimming in 2013 and won world championships in 2019 in the 150-meter individual medley, 100-meter freestyle and 50-meter breaststroke. She also took the silver medal in the 50-meter backstroke.
Austin, 28, of Terre Haute, Indiana, will swim in his third Paralympic Games in Tokyo. He won the gold medal in the S7 50-meter butterfly at the 2019 world championships. Austin set American records this year in the 200-meter and 400-meter freestyle.
In two Paralympic Winter Games appearances, Gabel (Ogden, Utah) has won two medals in snowboardcross, a silver at PyeongChang in 2018 and a bronze in Sochi in 2014. The 36-year-old has participated in four world championships since 2012 and finished first in snowboardcross at the 2019 event.
The fourth nominee on the women’s side is wheelchair basketball player Becca Murray. Murray is a two-time Paralympic gold medalist and three-time Paralympian. The other two nominees on the men’s side are surfer Jesse Billauer and triathlete Chris Nikic.