Pair of 17-year-old Paralympians break records, win gold in their respective events for Team USA

·2 min read

Teenage Olympians like swimmer Lydia Jacoby and skateboarder Momiji Niishiya took Tokyo by storm last month during their summer breaks from school.

Now, teenage Paralympians are doing the same.

Two 17-year-olds from the U.S., Anastasia Pagonis and Gia Pergolini, won gold and broke world records in their respective swimming events Thursday. Pagonis' first-place finish in the women's S11 400-meter freestyle earned the United States its first gold medal of the Tokyo Paralympics.

"I’m so excited we’re able to be here and we’re both world-record holders," Pagonis told the Olympic Information Service.

Gold medalist Anastasia Pagonis of Team USA reacts during the women's 400m freestyle S11 medal ceremony at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Gold medalist Anastasia Pagonis of Team USA reacts during the women's 400m freestyle S11 medal ceremony at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

With her win, Pagonis broke the world record she'd previously set in the event at the U.S. Paralympic Swimming Trials. She finished with a time of 4:54.49 and was 10 seconds ahead of silver-medalist Liesette Bruinsma.

The S11 grouping is for athletes with low visual acuity or no perception of light. Athletes wear blackened goggles to even the playing field.

Pagonis posted a TikTok after her win with the caption, "My back hurting from carrying my gold medal" where she danced and showed off her new hardware. The teenager has 2 million followers on the video-sharing platform, where she shares videos educating her followers about visual impairment. She started losing her vision at age 12 due to a genetic disease.

Pergolini set the world record for the S13 100-meter backstroke twice in the same day, first breaking the record in the event preliminary before shattering it again in the final. In the prelim, she swam a 1:05.05 and in the final she decreased her time to 1:04.64.

The S13 class is for athletes who are visually impaired, but less so than those in the S12 and S11 categories.

Gia Pergolini of the US (right) celebrates with compatriot Collen Young after winning the final of the women's 100m backstroke (S13) swimming event at the Tokyo Aquatics Center.
Gia Pergolini of the US (right) celebrates with compatriot Collen Young after winning the final of the women's 100m backstroke (S13) swimming event at the Tokyo Aquatics Center.

Pagonis and Pergolini, roommates in Tokyo, are both making their Paralympic debuts. Pagonis will swim in three more events (50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 200m individual medley), and Pergolini will compete in the 50-meter freestyle.

First though, they're celebrating their historic performances with Coke Zeroes and "two ice creams, not one."

“I’m really grateful, I wouldn’t want to share this experience with anybody but her. I love her like a sister and she’s amazing," Pergolini said of Pagonis.

Contact Emily Leiker at eleiker@usatoday.com or on Twitter @emleiker

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Paralympics: US swimmers Anastasia Pagonis, Gia Pergolini win gold