Two 17-year-old swimmers smash world records, win Paralympic gold

Anastasia Pagonis poses with her gold medal at the 2021 Tokyo Paralympics
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On day two of the Tokyo Paralympics, it was two American teenagers who led the way: swimmers Anastasia Pagonis and Gia Pergolini.

Pagonis and Pergolini – both 17 years old – won Paralympic gold medals and broke world records at the Tokyo Aquatics Center.

Competing in the women’s S11 400m freestyle, Pagonis touched the wall 4:54.49 to break her own world record, which she set earlier this summer at U.S. Paralympic Swimming Trials. Her victory marked the U.S. team’s first gold medal of the Tokyo Paralympics.

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Pagonis finished more than 10 seconds ahead of silver medalist Liesette Bruinsma of the Netherlands and 13 seconds ahead of bronze medalist Cai Liwen of China. The other American in the final – McClain Hermes – finished sixth.

The S11 classification is for athletes with very low visual acuity and/or no perception of light. All S11 athletes wear blackened goggles, which helps even the playing field. Pagonis began losing her vision at age 11 due to Stargardt’s disease, a genetic disorder that causes macular degeneration.

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Just an hour after claimed gold, Pergolini dove into the pool for the final of the women’s S13 100m backstroke. Earlier in the day during the preliminary heats, Pergolini broke Italian Carlotta Gilli‘s world record in the event, clocking 1:05.05.

In the final, Pergolini lowered her own world record, touching the wall in 1:04.64. Gilli claimed silver (1:06.10) and Australia’s Katja Dedekind earned bronze (1:06.49). The other American in the final, Colleen Young, placed eighth.

The S13 classification is also for athletes who are visually impaired. Athletes in S13 have higher visual acuity and/or a larger visual field than athletes in S11 (or S12, which falls in the middle).

Both Pagonis and Pergolini are making their Paralympic debut in Tokyo. Pagonis – who grew up in Long Island – is expected to compete in at least three more events over the next week (50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, and 200m individual medley), while Pergolini – who is from Roswell, Georgia – is also entered in the 50m freestyle.

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But first: the two 17-year-olds – who are roommates in Tokyo – planned to celebrate their gold medals and world records together.

“We’re definitely going to celebrate tonight, we’re going to drink a bunch of probably Coke Zeroes,” Pergolini told Olympic Information Service. “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.”

In addition to the Coke Zeroes, Pagonis said it was a “two ice creams, not one” type of night. “I’m so excited we’re able to be here and we’re both world-record holders,” she said.

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How to watch the Tokyo Paralympics

NBC will provide over 1,200 hours of Paralympic coverage. Here are some highlights:

  • A full Paralympic TV schedule (which includes an overview of coverage on NBC, NBCSN and Olympic Channel) can be found here.
  • Events can also be livestreamed on and the NBC Sports app. More info is available here.