On day two of the Tokyo Paralympics, 17-year-old American swimmers Anastasia Pagonis and Gia Pergolini won gold medals within an hour of each other, both in world record time.
On Friday, the two gold medalists sat down (virtually) with On Her Turf to discuss their gold medals, and their friendship.
“I couldn’t ask to share this experience with anyone else,” Pergolini said. “She’s by far my best friend on the team. I’m so happy for her and I’m so proud of her.”
“Stop it,” Pagonis laughed.
The two swimmers – both of whom are visually impaired – met four years ago at a swim meet in Cincinnati. Pagonis grew up on Long Island, while Pergolini is from Roswell, Georgia.
“We hit it off very well,” Pergolini recalled. “We just have the same energy.”
In para swimming, there are three classifications for athletes who are visually impaired: S11 (most visually impaired), S12, and S13 (least visually impaired). At the time, both Pagonis and Pergolini were competing in the S13 class. But in 2018, Pagonis’s vision began rapidly deteriorating and she now competes in the S11 class.
“We’ve been saying – since Cincinnati – that we’re going to go to Tokyo 2020 and we’re going to be roommates,” Pagonis said. “And guess what,”
“We’re roommates!” They shouted in unison, before Pagonis added, “And we have gold medals.”
Don’t forget the world records.
Pergolini, who swam second during Thursday’s session, finished her warm-up just in time to watch Pagonis compete in the final.
“I walk up to one of the TVs [by] the warm-up pool-”
“When she says ‘walk up,’ she puts her nose [to the TV],” Pagonis interjected. “Let’s just make that specific.”
Pergolini laughed and rephrased her story. “I put my nose up to the TV… I’m like, ‘Move out of the way, my roommate is swimming!'”
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.
But Pagonis, still in the pool, wasn’t immediately sure what she had accomplished. Her tapper at the finish was tasked with alerting her of the result: one tap for gold, two taps for silver, three taps for bronze.
“When I came into the wall, I got one tap, and I was waiting,” she said. “I was like, ‘You gonna hit me again? What’s happening? Is this real?'”
“I was so happy for her,” Pergolini said. “It made me pumped, I’m like, ‘Ok, I gotta get the world record so we can share it together.'”
An hour later, Pergolini won gold in the final of the women’s S13 100m backstroke, finishing in 1:04.64 and lowering her own world record from the preliminary round.
“She beat her world record by a whole half second in the 100 meters,” Pagonis gushed. “It’s genuinely insane.”
While Pagonis and Pergolini are happy to be each other’s hype woman, they also wanted to make another side of their relationship known.
“We bicker like sisters,” Pergolini explained. “She wakes me up at 5:30 this morning to help her find a shirt. I’m like, ‘Find it yourself! I’m going back to bed!'”
To be clear: Pagonis was not merely looking for fashion advice.
“We have certain shirts for every day, and I can’t see what shirt [is which],” she explained.
And so, without her roommate’s help, she was informed that she wasn’t matching the rest of the group when she got downstairs a few minutes later. “I’m convinced she did it on purpose,” Pagonis laughed.
Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC
How to watch the Tokyo Paralympics
NBC will provide over 1,200 hours of Paralympic coverage. Here are some highlights: