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The top 8 moments from the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics: Oksana Masters, Kendall Gretsch and more

Oksana Masters celebrates after winning the Women’s H5 cycling road race at the Tokyo Paralympics. (Photo by Mauro Ujetto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Tokyo Paralympics came to a close on Sunday, marking the end of two weeks of competition featuring roughly 4,500 athletes from 161 nations competing in 539 events across 22 sports. After the year-long delay and ongoing Covid-19 complications, the games finally came to fruition. Though fans and families were not permitted to attend, the unbelievable accomplishments of these amazing athletes were nevertheless on full display. 

Here’s eight of the most memorable moments from the 16th edition of the Summer Paralympics.

1. USA Sitting Volleyball defeats archrival China for gold

The USA and China have met in the sitting volleyball gold medal match at every Paralympics since 2008. China won the first two match ups, taking gold in 2008 and 2012, with the U.S. finally coming out on top for their first gold in the sport in Rio 2016. During pool play in Tokyo, the Americans lost to China 0-3 for what would be their only loss of the tournament. After beating Brazil in the semis to earn a re-match versus China for gold, the U.S. came out strong and took a 2-0 lead in the first two sets. China recovered to take the third set and force a fourth, something neither team had experienced since arriving in Japan. After battling back and forth through most of the fourth, the U.S. pulled away and won 25-19 to repeat as gold medalists against their rivals.

2. Jessica Long. That’s it. That’s the tweet

Jessica Long has been the most prolific Paralympic medalist for Team USA for the past 17 years. In Tokyo, in her fifth Paralympic games, the 29-year-old added six medals, including three golds (100m butterfly, 200m medley, 4x100m medley relay), to bring her career total to 29. Only one American Paralympian, swimmer Trischa Zorn-Hudson, has ever won more.

3. Oksana Masters becomes a four (!) sport medalist

Having previously medaled in the Paralympic sports of rowing, cross country skiing, and biathlon, Masters won two Tokyo gold medals in cycling in the time trial (H4-5) and the road race (H5). With these most recent victories, she has solidified her standing as the most versatile American athlete in Olympic or Paralympic history. After finishing just off the podium in Rio, Oksana won her two cycling golds in back-to-back days just four months after recovering from leg surgery.

4. Kendall Gretsch’s photo finish

When her wheelchair classification was not included in the 2016 Paralympics for triathlon, American Kendall Gretsch took a note from Oksana Masters’ playbook and took up cross country skiing. At the 2018 PyeongChang games, Gretsch and Masters finished one-two in the women’s 6km sitting biathlon event. Making her summer games debut in Tokyo, Gretsch was three and half minutes behind the leader after the swim portion in the PTWC triathlon. She quickly moved to second place during the recumbent hand cycle segment and then began reeling in the leader on the racing wheelchair section. With one kilometer left and a 25 second gap to close, Gretsch sprinted her way to the finish, catching reigning world champion Lauren Parker at the finish line to win the gold medal by one one-hundredth of a second.

5. Avani Lekhara’s historic gold

At just 19 years old, Lekhara became the first Indian woman to win an Olympic or Paralympic gold medal when she matched the world record and set a new Paralympic record in the 10M air rifle standing (SH1) with a score of 249.6. She later added a bronze medal in the 50M rifle 3 position (SH1). History, made. 

6. The Golden Slam dream is alive

Diede de Groot is a 24-year-old wheelchair tennis player from the Netherlands who was born with unequal leg length. She began playing the sport at the age of seven and has gone on to absolutely dominate since making her Grand Slam debut in 2017. Over the past four years she has won 11 Grand Slam titles, including all three slams so far in 2021. After taking the gold medal in Tokyo with a two-set victory over Yui Kamiji of Japan, de Groot is one US Open title away from winning the fairytale Golden Slam of tennis (winning all four Grand Slams plus the Olympic/Paralympic gold medal in a single year).

7. Afghan Zakia Khudadadi’s unlikely arrival in Tokyo

Amid the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and the U.S.’s military exodus, Paralympic athletes Zakia Khudadadi and Hossain Rasouli were caught in the mayhem of thousands trying to flee the country. A Paralympic volunteer carried the Afghan flag during the opening ceremonies after organizers were told the athletes were not going to be able to leave their home country. Behind-the-scenes efforts to get the athletes safely to Japan never ceased. While specific details of their journey are not likely to surface, they eventually succeeded in getting out of the country with a complex system of assistance from several governments and organizations. After safely arriving in Japan, Khudadadi, a 22-year-old Taekwondo athlete, became the first Afghan woman to compete in the Paralympics since 2004.

8. Changing of the guard in wheelchair basketball

Since 1980, only three countries have won the gold medal in women’s wheelchair basketball. Germany has three of them, Canada has another three, and the U.S. has four. This year, however, Canada went down in the quarters and both the U.S. and Germany lost in the semis, to China and the Netherlands respectively. The Netherlands went on to beat China 50-31 in the final, securing the country’s first gold medal in the sport after earning the bronze in both 2016 and 2012.

Final medal count:

In the overall medal count, China dominated all categories, finishing with 96 golds and 207 total Paralympic medals. Great Britain and the U.S. followed with 41 and 37 gold medals respectively. In total medals, the U.S. came in fourth while Great Britain and the Russian Paralympic Committee placed second and third.

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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