Multi-Paralympic champion Jessica Long ready to dominate in the pool once again at Tokyo 2020 

Here is what you need to watch Jessica Long, the second-most decorated Paralympian in U.S. history, compete in swimming at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in 2021. 

Picture by 2016 Getty Images

When it comes to Paralympic greatness, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone worthier of the title than swimming sensation Jessica Long.

The 29-year-old first electrified in her maiden Paralympics at Athens 2004 at just 12 years old, and ever since her debut the star hasn’t stopped excelling.

In her four Paralympic appearances, Long has amassed a whopping 23 medals - including 13 golds - making her the second-most decorated Paralympian in the history of the United States.

Tokyo 2020, in 2021 - Games edition number five for Long - has now arrived and the para-swimmer is as hungry as ever for success.

She will be competing in a total of five events across the competition, looking to add to her already comprehensive medal collection which also features over 50 world championship medals.

For the top things you need to know about Long, when she will be competing, and how to watch her at Tokyo 2020, keep reading.

1- From Siberia to the States

While Long grew up in Baltimore, her story in fact began many miles away from the U.S. in Siberia, Russia.

After she was born, the para-swimmer was diagnosed with fibular hemimelia, a condition that meant she was without most of the bones in her feet.

Through fear of not being able to look after her properly, her 16-year-old birth mother was persuaded to give her to an orphanage.

At 13 months, Beth and Steve Long adopted the young infant and brought her over to America to be raised.

Just five months later, Long had both her legs amputated below the knee so that she could learn to walk with the use of prosthetic legs. In total, it took 25 surgeries.

2- Finding freedom in the pool

Long’s parents encouraged her to try several different activities growing up, but it was in the backyard of her grandparents’ house that the Paralympic legend discovered her love of water.

“When I found swimming, I felt like, for the very first time in my entire life, I was free,” the American shared with Sports Illustrated.

At the age of 10, with the encouragement of her grandma, Long joined her first competitive swim team and just two years after that, her name was on the Team USA roster for the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games.

She would be the youngest U.S. athlete in attendance.

Her three, gold medal winning swims in Greece heralded her as a star, and was only a taste of the dominance she would continue to have in the Olympic swimming pool.

Jessica Long swimming
Picture by 2016 Getty Images

3- Connecting with her Russian birth family

In 2013, following an impressive London 2012 Paralympic Games that saw her clinch five gold medals, Long made the decision to travel to Russia and meet her biological parents.

The occasion was captured on film by NBC and was subsequently aired during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The film revealed that Long’s birth parents, Natalia, and Oleg Valtyshev, were unaware that their daughter had grown up to be a superstar para-swimmer.

“When I first see my Russian family, I want them to know that I’m not angry with them, that I’m not upset that they gave me up for adoption,” she says in the 21-minute-long film.

“I think that was really brave, and I don’t know what I would have done if I was in her situation, at 16 and having this disabled baby that they couldn’t take care of.”

4- Training with Michael Phelps and advocating for Paralympians

There are moments in life that no one can take away from you.

For the owner of 31 world swimming titles, winning a gold medal is of course up there, but so too is training with the greatest Olympian of all-time: Michael Phelps.

Rooted in a desire to tackle the stigma of "Paralympians not being as good as Olympians", Long linked up with Phelps and his coach Bob Bowman ahead of Rio 2016 to help prove otherwise.

“Training with Phelps and Bob Bowman was the moment that I had become an elite athlete and not just a Paralympic swimmer.”

“My biggest hope is that one day we never have to explain what the Paralympics are,” the American shared with the International Paralympic Committee.

5- Jessica Long’s Super Bowl advert touches millions

There are many swimming achievements that, to her rivals, make Long untouchable.

One of those feats recently occurred for the para-swimmer outside of the pool.

The 13-time gold medallist took centre stage during a Toyota commercial for NFL Super Bowl 55 in 2021 - one of the most-viewed sporting events in the entire world - touching the hearts of an entire nation watching.

The minute-long advert pivots around Long’s adoption story and captures both her strength and resilience, and the love and support of her parents.

It’s fair to say that Jessica’s story left many in tears.

Heading into Tokyo 2020, the Paralympian will be hoping to draw on the attention her story garnered earlier this year.

Preparation for these delayed Games, Long admits, has been challenging but important after Rio 2016, where she was left emotionally and physically burnt out.

Speaking to Tokyo 2020 earlier this year, the Paralympian shared her motivations for Japan:

“Just to get to train, to do what I get to do and that this is my job. I'm just having a lot of fun with it again. I don't want to end my career on Rio. That is kind of the push to swim in Tokyo.”

“I will define my own success, no one gets to define my success.”

Jessica Long’s Competition Schedule at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics in 2021:

Jessica Long will be competing in five swimming events at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Below are the dates, and times:

  • Women’s 100m Backstroke, Friday August 27 from 17:21 JST
  • Women’s 200m Individual Medley, Saturday August 28 from 10:53 JST
  • Women’s 400m Freestyle, Tuesday August 31 from 17:10 JST
  • Women’s 100m Breaststroke, Wednesday September 1 from 9:00 JST
  • Women’s 100m Butterfly, Friday September 3 from 17:37 JST

How to watch Jessica Long at Tokyo 2020 Paralympics

To find out how you can catch Jessica Long in action at Tokyo 2020 click here.


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