2020 Tokyo Paralympic Swimming Previews: 5 American Women to Watch

2020 Tokyo Summer Paralympic Games

The long-awaited 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games kicks off on Wednesday in Japan. Here are 5 swimmers on Team USA to watch out for once swimming begins.

Explanation of Para Classification System

  • There are 14 classifications for Paralympic swimmers, typically denoted as “S” followed by a number.
  • “SB” designates an athletes classification for breaststroke events
  • “SM” is for individual medley events
  • Athletes with physical impairments are classified in S1-S10, SB1-SB9, and SM1-SM10 with numbers 1-10 ranging from more severe activity limitations to less severe limitations.
  • Athletes with visual impairments are classified in S/SB11-13.
  • Athletes with intellectual impairments are classified in S/SB14.

1. Jessica Long – 29-year-old Long is headed to her 5th Paralympic Games as the 2nd-most decorated U.S. Paralympian in history. After Rio, she earned a total 23 Paralympic medals in her career, 13 of which were gold. 

Long will be defending her Paralympic title in the SM8 200 IM free for the 4th Paralympics in a row. She also will swim the S8 400 free, an event she won in 2004, 2008, and 2012. 

At the 2019 World Championships, Long collected 5 silver medals in the S8 100 free, S8 100 fly, SM8 200 IM, 4×100 free relay, and 4×100 medley relay.

Events in Tokyo:

  • 400 free – S8
  • 100 back – S8
  • 100 breast – SB7
  • 100 fly – S8
  •  200 IM – SM8

2. McKenzie Coan – This is the 3rd Paralympic Games for four-time Paralympic medalist Coan. She had a successful meet in Rio where she won gold medals in the S7 50 free, S7 100 free, and S7 400 free and a silver medal in the 4×100 free relay.

She has said she is aiming to break the World Record in the S7 400 free which was set at 4:59.09 in by Australia’s Jacqueline Freney. At the U.S. Paralympic Trials, she swam a 5:04.88 to come within .01 of the American Record.

Coan has continued to be a dominant force in freestyle events since Rio, earning gold medals in both the 100 free and 400 free at the 2017 and 2019 World Championships. She is entering Tokyo as the fastest swimmer in the S7 400 free this year and is a major medal contender in the 100 free.

Events in Tokyo:

  • 50 free – S8
  • 100 free – S7
  • 400 free – S7
  • 100 back – S7
  • 50 fly – S7

3. Gia Pergolini – A lot has changed for 17-year-old Pergollini since 2019.

At the 2019 World Championships, she won silver behind Italy’s Carlotta Gilli. About two years later, Pergolinni broke Gilli’s S13 100 back World Record at the U.S Paralympic Trials in June. 

This will be both Pergollini and Gilli’s Paralympic debut.

Pergollini fell just short of the podium in 100 fly in 5th at the 2019 World Championships, and she will be contesting both events in Tokyo alongside the S13 100 back.

Events in Tokyo:

  • 50 free – S13
  • 100 back – S13
  • 100 fly – S13

4. Leanne Smith – Smith racked up 3 gold medals at the 2019 World Championships in the S3 100 free, SB3 50 breast, and SM4 150 IM. Now, she’s headed to Tokyo to make her Paralympic debut.

33-year-old Smith will swim all three events she is the defending world champion in, alongside the S3 50 back which she won silver in behind Brazil’s Edenia Garcia. While Garcia has fallen to 7th in this year’s world rankings in the event, Great Britain’s Ellie Challis might be Smith’s biggest competition here. Challis is ranked 2nd in the world this year behind Smith. 

Smith also broke the American Record in the S3 50 back twice at the U.S. Paralympic Trials in June.

Events in Tokyo:

  • 100 free – S3
  • 50 back – S3
  • 50 breast SB3
  • 150 IM – SM4

5. Anastasia Pagonis – Pagonis is coming off a very successful short course yards season where she broke a total of 5 American Records.

That speed translated well into long course as she recently cracked the S11 400 free World Record at the U.S. Paralympic Trials in June.

While 17-year-old Pagonis did make the 2019 U.S. National Team, she will be making her Paralympic Games debut in Tokyo as the team’s rising star. In the 400 free, she will go up against the likes of Liesette Bruinsma from the Netherlands who won the event in Rio 5 years ago at the age of 16. 

And Pagonis is not just a star in the pool – she’s bringing a ton of new attention to Paralympic swimming through her social media channels, where she has 205,000 Instagram followers and over two million TikTok followers – all without having even raced at the Paralympic Games yet.

Events in Tokyo:

  • 50 free – S11
  • 100 free – S11
  • 400 free – S11
  • 200 IM -SM11

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11 months ago

GOOD LUCK to all athletes!! Awesome article…a couple corrections below:

*Jacqueline Freney did not set swimming records in 1992….(I think she was born that year?)…

*50 back is not a race for S13s…Gia is slated to compete in the 50 free in addition to 100 back and 100 fly…

David Gerrity
11 months ago

Good luck to the USA Paralympic Team!

Coach Mike 1952
11 months ago

Great to see SwimSwam covering these Games too. Let’s celebrate all these aquatic warriors too.

11 months ago

Personally excited to watch 17 y/o Mei Mei White (only added after Meyers withdrew) in 400 free, 200 IM, and 100 breast. Sounds like my dream event lineup!

Swimming nation
11 months ago

How does the 150 IM work?

Reply to  Swimming nation
11 months ago


Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Swimming nation
11 months ago

About Annika Johnson

Annika Johnson

Annika came into the sport competitively at age eight, following in the footsteps of her twin sister and older brother. The sibling rivalry was further fueled when all three began focusing on distance freestyle, forcing the family to buy two lap counters. Annika is a three-time Futures finalist in the 200 …

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