The runner Breanna Clark won gold in the women’s 400 meters in the T20 classification at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo 2020 on August 31, setting a new world record with 55.18 seconds. (The T20 classification is a sports class for intellectual impairment according to World Para Athletics.)
Yuliia Shuliar from Ukraine won a silver medal (56.19 seconds) and Jardenia Felix Barbosa da Silva from Brazil won a bronze medal (57.43).
Oh, and that world record she broke? It was her own.
With this victory, the 26-year-old Clark defended her title as reigning Paralympics champion in this event – she also came first at the Rio Games with a time of 57.79. That 2016 win made Clark the first female U.S. athlete with an intellectual disability to ever win a Paralympic medal – let alone a gold medal, according to Athletes Without Limits.
The two-time Paralympic athlete was diagnosed with autism at the age of four and began participating in athletics in high school. She also ran on the women’s athletics team at Pasadena City College.
“I like running because it makes me feel free,” Clark told the International Paralympic Committee. “I also like it because I’m good at what builds my confidence. I can also travel around the world, meet new people and try new dishes. “
In May 2020, Clark’s mother Rosalyn (Bryant) Clark was featured on the Tim Loves the Olympics podcast, in which she explained that Clark has been playing sports since she was four or five, but team sports like basketball and baseball also seemed to cause a lot of sensory stimulation. When Breanna tried the track, things were different. The individuality of the sport and the lack of “outside noise” allowed the girl to focus and follow instructions, her mother said.
Breanna Clark’s gold medal continues something of a family tradition. Her mother, who is also her trainer, won a silver medal in the 4 × 400 meter relay at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal and was fifth in the 400 meter individual race. And Clark’s twin brother Rashard has had his fair share of championships and All-American titles under his belt from his time on the Texas A&M University track team. (He also has a weakness for the 400-meter distance.)
Like many other Olympic and Paralympic athletes, Clark had to get creative with her training when the 2020 Paralympic Games were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Los Angeles Sentinel. “We turned our home into a gym,” Clark told the newspaper, adding that the family would also exercise in parks and on the beach. Her mother ordered weights and other exercise equipment so she could do exercises in the garden or at home when she didn’t have access to a weight room.
That helped her take part in the 2020 Games – and ready to break more records, something she’s longed for the 400 meters since 2018. Afterward, she told reporters, “It takes hard work to break the world record. I hope to be able to break more records by next year and 2020, “said World Para Athletics.
With a 2020 Tokyo Games gold medal gracing her neck, it’s safe to say that all of her hard work has officially paid off.