MAY 24 UPDATE: We gave you the preview last week. Scroll down to get the key outcomes.
ORIGINAL POST: The 2024 US Paralympic Trials will take place in about a year, which might feel like a long way off but really isn’t. Athletes will only have a few opportunities between now and then to bolster their chances of making the roster, and one of them occurs this weekend at the 2023 US Paralympic Track & Field National Championships. Staged at Team USA’s training center in Chula Vista, CA, the three-day meet will feature all the nation’s top adaptive runners, jumpers, and throwers—including everyone who’ll be representing the Stars and Stripes later this summer at the World Para Athletic Championships.
Roughly 150 competitors will be on hand at Chula Vista, including more than 40 amputee athletes. We’ve highlighted a handful of the most compelling storylines below. You can catch all the action live at US Para Track and Field’s website or on their Facebook page. The complete events schedule is available at this link. Check back in next week to see the results.
Barta v. Hatz
Sydney Barta and Beatriz Hatz (T64 classification) both made their Paralympic debuts as teenagers two years ago in Tokyo. Barta finished just off the podium in the 200m dash; Hatz took 6th in the same race and finished 5th in the long jump. In 2023 they rank 1st (Hatz) and 3rd (Barta) in the world in the 100 meter dash, with the positions reversed (Barta 1st, Hatz 4th) in the 200. Hatz also holds the world’s #3 ranking in long jump. Both figure to contend for medals not only in 2024, but also at the 2028 Paralympic Games in Los Angeles. Their head-to-head duels this weekend should be fun. The 200 takes place on Thursday evening, May 18, at 5:30 (Pacific Time); the 100 happens Friday morning at 8:45.
MAY 24 UPDATE/RESULTS: Almost everything went according to form: Barta prevailed in the 200m by 0.8 seconds, while Hatz won the 100m duel by .014. But both were outraced in the 100m by Femita Ayanbeku (see below).
The Book of Ezra
Ezra Frech (T63) competed in Tokyo two years ago at just 16 years old, making him Team USA’s youngest member and one of the youngest track and field competitors from any country. He still managed a fifth-place finish in his signature event, the high jump, while clearing the bar at a personal-best 1.80 meters. Last month at the Mount Sac Relays he pushed his PB to 1.85 meters, a height that would have earned him bronze in Tokyo and gold at the London Games not so long ago. Frech holds the world’s #1 ranking and seems poised to succeed his mentor, Sam Grewe, as the next Paralympic gold medalist. Oh by the way, Frech also ranks #1 in the world in the long jump and #2 in the 100 meters.
MAY 24 UPDATE/RESULTS: Frech matched his personal best with another 1.85m jump. He also tied for first in the 100m dash—and yes it was a dead heat, with Frech and Dez Jackson (see below) notching identical times of 12.78 seconds (which would have been good for 4th place in Tokyo).
Noelle Lambert (T63) didn’t take up sprinting until 2019, barely squeaked onto Team USA in time for the World Championships, and wound up with a 4th-place finish in the 100m dash. She placed 6th in Tokyo and parlayed that performance into a spot on Survivor, becoming the second female amputee ever cast on the show. Lambert enters the US Nationals with the world’s 2nd-fastest time in 2023, a personal-best 15.91 seconds. That’s not a Paralympic-medal-contending time, but there are still 15 months until the Games. Don’t count this survivor out.
MAY 24 UPDATE/RESULTS: Lambert finished second in her 100m heat with a time of 16.14 seconds.
Rookies of the Year
Three amputee hurlers will look to make their mark while competing in their first US Nationals. Samantha Heyison (F44) has held the world’s #1 ranking in shotput almost continuously for more than a year; she’s also currently #1 in the discus for 2023, after finishing with the #2 ranking last year. Noelle Malkamaki is even more dominant in her classification, F46—last year she registered the longest throws in both discus and shotput by a country mile. The third newcomer, Alicia Guerrero (F64), holds the current #1 ranking in shotput after finishing #2 in that event in 2022. The big caveat here is that all three women compete in sparsely populated classifications. There weren’t enough participants at Tokyo in either the F44 or F46 categories to stage shotput or discuss competitions; in Guerrero’s F64 class, there wasn’t a shotput competition. Hopefully that will change in 2024.
MAY 24 UPDATE/RESULTS: Malakamaki set a new world record in the shotput (F46) with a 12.63-meter heave. Heyison set a new regional mark for the Americas in discus (F44).
Sprinter Femita Ayanbeku (T64) and long-jumper Desmond Jackson (T63) both competed at the Rio Paralympics in 2016 but missed the 2021 Games (Ayanbeku due to injury, Jackson due to a PED-related sanction). They’re both seeking another chance to represent Team USA, and the Nationals offer a chance to reset their trajectories. Jackson returned to competition last month and ran neck-and-neck with Frech in the 100m, finishing just .03 seconds behind (and not far off his personal best in the event). We’re rooting for him. Ayanbeku is still battling some nagging injuries; she hasn’t competed so far in 2023.
MAY 24 UPDATE/RESULTS: Ayanbeku ran her best race of the year in the 100m, finishing in 13.63 seconds to easily outpace teammates Hatz and Barta (above). She’ll need to shave another half-second or so to contend for the podium in Paris. Jackson also ran strong over the weekend, racing Frech (above) to a dead heat in the 100m. He’s already a tenth of a second faster than his best time at the 2016 Rio Games.