U.S. Paralympics Swi... Features Nine Team USA medals...

Nine Team USA medals cap historic world championships in Madeira

By Kristen Gowdy | June 18, 2022, 4:30 p.m. (ET)

McKenzie Coan makes a heart with her hands in the direction of the crowd after winning the women's 100-meter freestyle S7. (Photo: Getty Images)

MADEIRA, PORTUGAL – A record-breaking final day saw Team USA bring home nine medals – including six golds – to conclude the Madeira 2022 Para Swimming World Championships. The team was spurred by a world record and two world titles on the day from Leanne Smith (Salem, Massachusetts), who continued her dominance in Madeira, as well as Paralympic medalists McKenzie Coan (Clarkesville, Georgia), Anastasia Pagonis (Long Island, New York), Elizabeth Marks (Colorado Springs, Colorado) and Colleen Young (St. Louis, Missouri), who also took home gold.

 

For Team USA, Jamal Hill (Inglewood, California) nabbed his first individual medal of the meet, tying for silver in the men’s 50-meter freestyle S9, Gia Pergolini (Atlanta, Georgia) joined Young on the 200-meter individual medley SM13 podium with bronze, and the mixed 4x100-meter freestyle 34 pt. relay team of Coan, Audrey Kim (Salt Lake City, Utah), Robert Griswold (Freehold, New Jersey) and Hill ended the night with silver.

 

Finishing second overall in the gold medal standings, Team USA brought home 24 world titles in Madeira and 40 medals overall, improving on its total from London 2019 at which it won 14 gold and 35 total medals.

 

A large part of that effort came from Smith, who made history in Madeira by winning all seven of her events and ended her perfect week with two gold medals on the final day. No U.S. athlete has accomplished that feat at Para swimming world championships since Jessica Long won nine in 2006.

 

The 2020 Paralympic silver medalist’s wins in the 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle S3 races today were the capstone to a career week for Smith and also redemption for her performance in Tokyo, which she said she was not happy with.

 

“I mentally and physically reset after Tokyo,” she said. “There was something missing. I changed up my training and figured out how to have a bit more of a balanced lifestyle. I didn’t want to put pressure on myself. I wanted to have fun and fall back on my training and know that I’ve done enough to get through the week.”

 

Seven gold medals – the most overall out of more than 500 athletes in Madeira – and two world records later, Smith was happy to cap her meet with her favorite event. With a final time of 1:27.62 in the 100-meter freestyle, she outpaced the field by more than 20 seconds and knocked more than two seconds off the world record she set at the Para Swimming World Series in Indianapolis in April.

 

“The 100 freestyle is my favorite race, I’ve looked forward to it all week long,” Smith said. “It’s one that I’ve swam since the very beginning. There’s lots of memories there. I just love it.”

 

Both world champions already in Madeira, Young and Pergolini teamed up for a 1-3 finish in the women’s 200-meter individual medley SM13. Coming out of the first split, Young was in sixth place, but surged into third by the 100-meter mark, then utilized her signature breaststroke in the third leg to take the lead for good, finishing in 2:27.89.

 

Young is the reigning Paralympic silver medalist in the event. She also took gold in the 100-meter breaststroke earlier in the week.

 

“I was actually really nervous before my race, but I talked to my coach and I went into it with the same mindset I had going into the 100 breast,” she said. “It was just a matter of trusting myself and trusting practice, and I’m really happy to bring home another medal.”

 

Pergolini, meanwhile, took home her fifth medal in Madeira in dramatic fashion after edging Ireland’s Roisin Ni Riain by .14 seconds. A two-time world champion in Madeira, Pergolini said she came into the meet with the goal of winning the 100-meter backstroke, her signature event.

 

She did that, and more, adding a world title in the 100-meter freestyle and taking silver in both the 100-meter butterfly and the 50-meter freestyle.

 

Ending her meet on the podium with Young was a perfect way to cap her competition.

 

“Colleen has been with me and supported me, especially being older, she has been a huge role model and always stuck by me,” Pergolini said. “I wouldn’t want to share the podium with anyone else to end my time in Madeira.”

 

Coan completed a sweep of the S7 freestyle events tonight by winning the 100-meter freestyle. Her time tonight of 1:09.65 was nearly two seconds ahead of silver medalist Giulia Terzi of Italy.

 

With the win, Coan has taken the 2022 world titles in the 50, 100 and 400-meter freestyle S7 races this week – a feat she hasn’t accomplished since the Rio Paralympic Games in 2016. She also has her first major international medal of her career in backstroke with bronze in the 100-meter, plus the relay silver.

 

Coan said she exceeded even her own expectations for Madeira.

 

“I couldn’t have gone into this meet expecting something like this to happen,” she said. “To be able to do this clean sweep, honestly it’s something I never thought I’d be able to do again.”

 

The six-time Paralympic medalist credited her fellow S7 teammates, Julia Gaffney (Mayflower, Arkansas) and Ahalya Lettenberger (Glen Ellyn, Illinois) for getting her excited for her finals race. Gaffney and Lettenberger, both already medalists in Madeira, finished the 100-meter freestyle just off the podium in fourth and fifth, respectively.

 

“That race was probably the most special because I was racing with Julia and Ahalya,” Coan said. “We have this pre-race routine if we’re all in the call room together, we do a chair bump and a fist bump, and it really gets me going.”

 

Pagonis finished her meet on a high note as well, defending her Tokyo gold medal in the women’s 400-meter freestyle S11 to earn her first world title in the event. The two-time Paralympic medalist dominated the race, clocking a 5:02.28 to top the rest of the field by nearly 15 seconds. Pagonis has won every race in which she has competed in Madeira, taking titles in the 200-meter individual medley and 100-meter freestyle as well.

 

After initial disappointment with her preliminary swim this morning, Pagonis said she made some physical and mental adjustments that allowed her to reach her potential – and her third world title of the meet – in tonight’s final.

 

“This morning, I was getting in my head a lot, and tonight I decided to just go out and have fun with it and not put that pressure on myself,” Pagonis said. “Something I did a little differently in finals was that I was breathing every stoke. I was also trying to take myself back to Tokyo, when I got that world record, and I think that really helped me.”

 

Sgt. First Class Marks sprinted to her second world title of the competition in the women’s 50-meter butterfly S6. In a photo finish, the five-time Paralympic medalist surged to gold in 36.98, .12 seconds ahead of silver medalist Sara Vargas Blanco and .20 seconds ahead of bronze medalist Nicole Turner.

 

Marks also was a part of the relay team that won the mixed 4x50-meter medley in world record fashion earlier in the week.

 

“The relay was incredibly special because I don’t want to fail for other people,” Marks said. “But this one is also special because my coach has been putting a lot of long hours into my sprinting. It’s been a steep learning curve for us. I want to thank the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program for their support and also my training partner [U.S. Paralympics Swimming athlete] Connor Gioffreda for always pushing me in butterfly and putting up with me in training.”

 

After qualifying for the relay final via a strong preliminary swim from Morgan Stickney (Cary, North Carolina), Lizzi Smith (Muncie, Indiana), Matthew Torres (Ansonia, Connecticut) and Hill, Team USA put it all together in the last event of the meet. Coan, Kim, Griswold and Hill’s 4x100-meter freestyle time of 4:09.81 was second to only Spain, who set a world record in the race.

 

“It means the world to us,” Griswold said. “It’s not just about the four of us, but about the seven people who competed on the relay total. This was a complete team effort and we all got it done. It took so many people.”

 

Hill earned his first individual medal of the event just minutes before anchoring the relay, tying  for silver in the men’s 50-meter freestyle S9, the race in which he won Paralympic bronze last year in Tokyo.

 

He had a quick turnaround from the 50-meter freestyle to the relay, but said his teammates gave him a boost.

 

“What’s really important in relays is the energy of the team,” Hill said after the race. “We had the energy today, we were ready to go. These three opened it up for me on that relay, so I had no choice but to go into that last leg and deliver for them.”

 

While the relay medal was the sixth of the meet for Griswold and the fourth for Coan, it was the first for the 15-year-old Kim. Racing under immense pressure, the youngest member of Team USA said she relied on her more veteran teammates to mentor her through her first world championships and to her first medal.

 

“They’re amazing,” Kim said. “I was able to ask them anything, and they answered for me. They basically guided me through this meet, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them at all. I’m so grateful for them and so thankful for this race. It was an absolutely amazing experience.”

 

Team USA’s McClain Hermes (Dacula, Georgia) also had a strong showing in the 400-meter freestyle S11, recording her second consecutive fourth-place finish in Madeira to wrap her world championships. Paralympic medalists Hannah Aspden (Raleigh, North Carolina) and Sophia Herzog (Fairplay, Colorado), who each earned a silver medal last night, finished with seventh-place results in the women’s 50-meter freestyle S9 and 50-meter butterfly S6, respectively.

 

Today’s session concludes the Madeira 2022 Para Swimming World Championships. For updates and future coverage of Team USA, follow U.S. Paralympics Swimming on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For final medal standings, full results and other event information, please click here.

 

For media requests and photo inquiries, please contact Kristen Gowdy at Kristen.Gowdy@usopc.org.

 

TEAM USA MEDALS (Day 7)

 

GOLD

 

- McKenzie Coan (women’s 100-meter freestyle S7)

- Elizabeth Marks (women's 50-meter butterfly S6)

- Anastasia Pagonis (women’s 400-meter freestyle S11)

- Leanne Smith (women’s 200-meter freestyle S3)

- Leanne Smith (women’s 100-meter freestyle S3)

- Colleen Young (women’s 200-meter individual medley SM13)

 

SILVER

 

- Jamal Hill (men’s 50-meter freestyle S9)

- Team USA (mixed 4x100-meter freestyle relay 34pt.)

 

BRONZE

 

- Gia Pergolini (women’s 200-meter individual medley SM13)