Lawrence Sapp competes in the butterfly at team trials. (Photo: Joe Kusumoto)
After the longer-than-usual wait for the final swim meet used to determine the Paralympic roster, the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials last weekend seemed to go by as fast as Mallory in a 50-meter freestyle sprint.
By Sunday, however, the three-day trials were and the Paralympic team decided. Twenty-four women and 10 men will represent the U.S. in Tokyo later this summer across the physical, visual and intellectual impairment classifications, and there’s no shortage of talent.
One thing that became quite clear midway through the meet is that the veterans of the team not only have a wealth of experience but also plenty left to show the world.
Take , for example.
She’ll be making her third trip to the Paralympics this summer at the age of 32. She believes — with good reason — that she’s capable not only of reaching the top of the podium once again but also catching her own world records that have stood for around 10 years.
On the first night of the trials, she swam a personal best in the S7 100-meter backstroke, beating her previous fastest time by about a half a second and setting fastest time in the world so far this year at 1 minute, 22.68 seconds. She was just off her world record in both the 50-meter butterfly and the 200-meter individual medley, set in 2012 and 2010, respectively.
“I want my record in the 50-meter fly,” said Weggemann, a native of Eagan, Minnesota,who has plenty of experience swimming at the University of Minnesota’s Jean K. Freeman Center. “I broke it in trials in 2012 and I want to get it again. And I want my record in the 200-IM. It’s been over a decade, it’s time for it to go.”
Then there’s McKenzie Coan, who’ll also be making her third trip to the Paralympics. She decided to hold off on resting coming into the trials and was still able to swim faster than five years ago. Her time in the 400-meter freestyle was a personal best 5:04.88, just barely under the U.S. record :04.87 and faster than the time of 5:05.77 that she won the gold medal Rio.
Evan Austin will also be going to his third Paralympic Games. While the podium eluded him at the first two, he said that training and coaching with the women’s swim team at Purdue University him better prepared than ever before to bring home some hardware. Not only is he the reigning world champion in the 50-meter butterfly, but he’s also registered lifetime bests in several events so far this year.
Then there are the newcomers.
Team USA is rich in talent, and many of them were dropping American and world records at the trials to prove they’re ready to shine on the big stage.
One such athlete is S14 swimmer Lawrence Sapp, who set U.S. records in both the 100-meter butterfly and the 200-meter individual medley less than 24 hours before being named to his first Paralympic team.
“It would be my first time at the Games,” Sapp said at the conclusion of his races. “I feel ready.”
Zachary Shattuck, who’ll be making his Paralympic debut as well, set U.S. records in the SM-meter individual medley, SB6 100-meter breaststroke and the S6 50-meter butterfly.
Showcasing the depth in the visually impaired categories, Anastasia Pagonis, Gia and David Abrahams were among those who also grabbed hold of a few high marks.
set the world record in the S13 100-meter backstroke on night one of competition, while on day two Pagonis set a world record in the S11 400-meter freestyle and then broke it that night in the final. Abrahams set the American record in the S13 100-meter butterfly as well as the 200-meter individual medley.
Then, of course, there’s always the question of who’s going to have a breakthrough moment.
Who might be the next Becca Meyers?She had a silver and bronze medal in her first Paralympics in 2012 and was hoping for just one gold in 2016. Instead, she brought home three golds and a silver. She’s likely to add to that total this summer, based on her form at the trials, and fans will just have to tune in two months from now to find out who else will rise to the occasion when the U.S. shows the world what it can do in Tokyo.