2024 Paralympics: Team USA’s Comeback Kids

Whenever a medal contender misses the Paralympics for some reason, it’s a tough pill to swallow. They’ve got to wait four long years for another chance to compete on that stage. Because COVID delayed the Tokyo Games by 12 months, those who missed out have only been on hold for three years, not four. But it has surely felt like an eternity nonetheless.

The wait is almost over for the five American athletes listed here. All of them coulda/shoulda added medals to their trophy case in 2021. We’ll be pulling extra hard for them to reach the podium in Paris.

Nicky Nieves
Sitting Volleyball

After winning gold with Team USA at Rio in 2016, Nieves established herself as a leader on the court and off. But three days before the Tokyo Paralympics began, she tested positive for COVID and had to be replaced on the roster. It wasn’t easy watching her teammates win without her, she admits, but the experienced spurred some personal growth. Nieves has reclaimed her central role on the American squad as it seeks a third consecutive gold medal.

Mark Barr

Barr came agonizingly close to his first Paralympic medal at the 2016 Rio Games, missing the podium by just 16 seconds. He didn’t get the opportunity to close that narrow gap in 2021 because Barr’s classification (PTS2) didn’t race at the Tokyo Games. He’s still an elite competitor, with a top-five world ranking and a newly won American regional title. If Barr makes the roster for Paris, he’ll be competing in his fourth Paralympics, 20 years after his first appearance.

Blake Leeper
Track and Field

A silver medalist in 2012, Leeper skipped not one but two Paralympic cycles: He was deemed ineligible in 2016 over a substance-abuse issue, and he spent 2021 battling unsuccessfully for the right to compete against nondisabled runners at the Olympics. Still only 34 years old, Leeper is back in medal-winning form. He took silver in the 400 meters (T62) at last summer’s World Championships and clocked the world’s fourth-fastest 100-meter time in 2023.

Samantha Bosco

Bosco nearly lost a lot more than a Paralympic berth in 2021. The cycling accident that knocked her out of the Tokyo Games left her in the ICU with a skull fracture and a long, hard rehab journey. By the following summer, Bosco was back to winning world titles. She figures to contend for gold in both the road race and individual time trial in Paris.

Femita Ayanbeku
Track and Field

Although she did compete at the Tokyo Games, a positive COVID test forced Ayanbeku to quarantine in the Paralympic Village for seven days, robbing her of critical training time. She was ultimately cleared to participate, but Ayanbeku was nowhere near her peak form and didn’t even qualify for the finals in her signature event, the 100 meters. She took time out again at the start of 2024 to deliver her first child, but the new mom expects to be back on the track in time for the Paris Games.

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