McKenzie Coan and Ahalya Lettenberger on the podium after the women's 400m freestyle S7. (Photo: Ralf Kuckuck/USOPC)
MADEIRA, PORTUGAL – Paralympic champions McKenzie Coan (Clarkesville, Georgia) and Robert Griswold (Freehold, New Jersey) won their third consecutive world titles in their signature events, Leanne Smith (Salem, Massachusetts) earned her second title in two days and Colleen Young (St. Louis, Missouri) won her second career worlds gold to lead Team USA on the second night of the Madeira 2022 Para Swimming World Championships.
Americans took home five medals on the night to bring Team USA’s overall medal count in Madeira to 11. Paralympic medalist Ahalya Lettenberger (Glen Ellyn, Illinois) nabbed bronze in the women’s 400m freestyle S7 to round out the medal haul.
Coan has been the best women’s 400m freestyle S7 swimmer in the world since she won Paralympic gold in the event at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016. Since then, she’s won every world championship and Paralympic gold medal in the 400m freestyle.
That wasn’t about to change tonight – Coan was crowned the 400m freestyle S7 world champion for the third consecutive time after besting the field by nearly 10 seconds.
Coan credited the 400m and 500m repeats she often drills in training for her continued dominance in the event.
“It’s been every single day coming in and working hard,” Coan said. “These are the hardest sets you could possibly imagine. My coaches put me through the ringer, and it’s their dedication and me getting through those sets that makes the difference. It’s the grit.”
Lettenberger found redemption after missing the podium by milliseconds in the individual medley last night. The 2020 Paralympic silver medalist finished with the bronze medal behind Coan. It was the second career world championships medal for Lettenberger.
Lettenberger, who is five years younger than Coan, came up in the sport looking up to the six-time world champion. To share a podium, she said, was an unbeatable feeling.
“McKenzie has been an idol of mine since my first Para meet,” she said. “It feels really good, especially after yesterday when I just got out-touched in the I.M., it feels really good to put it together today. To do it with McKenzie is so special.”
Coan remembers signing autographs for Lettenberger when she was a young swimmer.
“When Ahalya hit the wall and I realized what she had done, I think I was even happier for her than myself,” Coan said. “I watched Ahalya grow up in this, and I always told her that this was going to be her someday, so to see her do this, it just shows that it’s so much bigger than going out and winning medals. It’s inspiring the next generation. She is proof of that.”
Swimming his best event, the men’s 100m backstroke S8, Griswold followed Coan in winning a third consecutive world championship title of his own. The reigning 100m backstroke S8 Paralympic champion swam out to a three-second lead over the field in his first 50m, then extended it in the back half to take the win by 4.10 seconds. Teammate Matthew Torres (Ansonia, Connecticut), who won silver in yesterday’s men’s 400m freestyle S8, finished fifth.
For Griswold, the three-peat comes on the heels of a world record-setting gold medal performance in the event in Tokyo. He said he is still working on getting his backstroke back to where it was before the Games last summer as he looks toward Paris 2024.
“To be honest, there are things I could have done better,” he said. “I’m working on getting back to all of that great work I was doing going into Tokyo. Overall though, you can’t be mad with a gold medal and a third straight title, so I have a smile on my face and I’m taking that with me to the podium.”
The Paralympic bronze medalist in the women’s 100m breaststroke SB13 in Tokyo, Young broke an American record en route to an upset win in tonight’s competition. Seeded third coming into the event, Young swam to her 10th career world championship medal in 1:14.79, eking out the victory by just .02 seconds.
After taking four months off post-Tokyo, Young said she has been refining her breaststroke leading into Madeira. She recorded the best splits of her career.
“I’ve really been working on my technique,” Young said. “I just came into this hoping to execute my race well, and I did that. To be up there on the podium tonight with so many of my teammates is such an honor. They’re not just my teammates, they’re my second family.”
In the women’s 150m individual medley SM3, Smith continued her dominance in Madeira with a commanding victory and her second world title in two days. Smith broke away from the pack in the final 100m of the race and never looked back, cruising to a nearly 18-second victory. Her time of 2:56.94 was less than half a second off the championship record, which Smith set in 2019. It is her second straight world championship title in the event and fifth career world championship medal.
Racing a packed schedule, Smith’s next individual event is the 50m backstroke on Wednesday. She has one of the busiest slates in Madeira with five individual events plus the potential to compete in Team USA relays, which is more than she’s used to – in Tokyo for example, she raced four events over a longer competition.
“I normally have about three or four events offered, and this week there were more events in my classification, so I’m definitely taking advantage of that,” Smith said. “It does mean taking a load of three races to up to seven races this week, not including whether there are prelims and finals, so it’s definitely a much bigger task, but I’m excited to see what I can do with it.”
In the women’s 200m individual medley SM9, 2020 Paralympian Summer Schmit (Stillwater, Minnesota) improved on her fifth-place finish in Tokyo to fourth tonight. In her worlds debut, it was the 19-year-old’s best-ever finish in a major international competition.
“I’m super happy. I would’ve loved to medal, but I placed better than I did in Tokyo, and I’m really happy with that,” Schmit said. “My first world championships has been incredible. We’re really gaining momentum as a team.”
Abbas Karimi (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) just missed the podium in the men’s 50m backstroke S5, taking fourth with a 40.68-second swim. Karimi returns to the pool for his signature event, the 50m butterfly S5, on Tuesday. Five-time Paralympian Rudy Garcia-Tolson (Colorado Springs, Colorado) finished his 400m freestyle S7 race in fifth place, giving the veteran athlete his second consecutive top-five finish in two days.
Two-time Paralympic champion Mikaela Jenkins (Evansville, Indiana) finished fourth in the women’s 200m individual medley SM10, but later received a disqualification for an illegal wall touch. The disqualification is currently under protest as of the publication of this article. Jenkins will be back for the 100m butterfly S10, the event in which she won Paralympic gold in Tokyo. Two-time Paralympic champion Hannah Aspden (Raleigh, North Carolina) opened her world championships campaign with an eighth-place finish in the women’s 200m individual medley SM9, and still has her best events ahead of her.
Audrey Kim (Salt Lake City, Utah), who made her world championships debut and her first event final in the 50m freestyle yesterday, took sixth in her heat of the women’s 200m individual medley S10. The 15-year-old rising star will return to the pool for her next individual event – the women’s 100m freestyle S10 – on Friday.
Competition resumes Tuesday morning at 9AM local time with the second day of preliminary heats. Every session of Madeira 2022 will be live streamed on the U.S. Paralympics Swimming Facebook page. Follow U.S. Paralympics Swimming on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for live updates and coverage from world championships.
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TEAM USA MEDALS (Day 2)
- McKenzie Coan (women’s 400m freestyle S7)
- Robert Griswold (men’s 100m backstroke S8)
- Leanne Smith (women’s 150m individual medley SM3)
- Colleen Young (women’s 100m breaststroke SB13)
- Ahalya Lettenberger (women’s 400m freestyle S7)