U.S. Paralympics Swi... Features After Missing Out On...

After Missing Out On Rio, David Gelfand Sets Aim For Tokyo

By Ryan Wilson | Jan. 18, 2021, 1:08 a.m. (ET)


David Gelfand has all eyes on next year’s Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.

In fact, from this past January until next September, he will be eating, sleeping and breathing Team USA at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center (USOPTC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“From now until Tokyo, it’s really nailing those details, and putting in practice every day how I want to execute my races,” he said. “When I step up on the blocks at trials in Tokyo and practice, I want to be able to execute my race as I need to to achieve those goals.” 

The 2020 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for Swimming are scheduled to take place June 17-20, 2021 in Minneapolis in what will be a multi-sport event with cycling, swimming and track and field.

Gelfand was chasing the Rio Games, but fell just short. He said he was disappointed not to make the Games in 2016, as a 17-year-old.

“It was too bad,” he said. “I did understand, and I knew that.”

He added: “It kind of lit that fire in me that said, OK, I obviously didn’t have enough training under my belt.”

The Tufts University engineering student chose to move to Colorado this year to gain direct access to U.S. Paralympic coaches and trainers. While the USOPTC and Tufts have similar equipment, the attention is more individualized in Colorado. The group is smaller than his 80-member college team.

Gelfand trains nine times a week on a long-course pool, the same kind used at the international level. That pool in combination with the U.S. coaching staff has led Gelfand, now 22, to believe his body and form are more mature than they were four years ago.

“I’m worlds better than I was (before Rio).” 

In the past two years, Gelfand has found a sweet spot in Indianapolis. At the 2019 World Para Swimming World Series in Indianapolis, he won gold in the 200-meter individual medley, silver in the 100 breaststroke and 400 freestyle, and bronze in the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke. At the same event a year prior, he won two gold medals.

Gelfand said he was disappointed most of his races have been canceled this year. This year was supposed to be the first year the Para Swimming World Series was scheduled to take place the same year as the Paralympic Games. Yet, nearly all of the events, from the ones in Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy, in late February to the Singapore World Series in May were canceled. 

Gelfand does, though rank fourth in the world in the 200 freestyle S9 with a time of 2:15.84. and in the 400 individual medley SM9 at 5:25.73 from January.

“I’ve been really confident in the work that I’ve put in, and the focus that I’ve had in the past 11 months,” Gelfand said. “I think I have a good shot at getting to where I want to be … and representing Team USA in Tokyo.”

The college junior said the past four years have reminded him of his motivation to improving as a whole.

“(I’ve) learned a ton about how to manage my time, how to constantly improve,” he said. “How can I get better? What do I need to do to be that little bit better?”

After the Tokyo Games next September, Gelfand plans to return to Tufts to finish his senior year in mechanical engineering. He is looking forward to jumping back into life as a college student, instead of taking a full course load online states away from his classmates.

He said he would like to take advantage of all Tufts has to offer in his last year there. He is currently involved in some clubs, including the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Gelfand will graduate in the spring of 2022.

With the pandemic, Gelfand said he believes it was the right time and decision to move to Colorado and live in the USOPTC dorms this year.

“I wasn’t sure what training would look like, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to train consistently up to trials in 2021,” he said. “I really wanted to make sure that the hard work pays off.”

Ryan Wilson

Ryan Wilson is a writer and independent documentary filmmaker from Champaign, Illinois. He is a freelance contributor to USParaSwimming.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.