Teenagers Blackwell, Frech shine with world titles, world records to cap four medals for Team USA
by Kristen Gowdy
PARIS, FRANCE – Two Team USA teenagers set the tone for a fifth day packed with personal bests for the Americans at the 2023 World Para Athletics in Paris, France. Nineteen-year-old Jaydin Blackwell (Oak Park, Michigan) and 18-year-old Ezra Frech (Los Angeles, California) put on a show in the men’s 400-meter T38 and men’s high jump T63, respectively, each setting world records and showing the world the future of Para track and field in the United States.
Team USA brought home four medals on the day to bring its total to 20 medals, including six gold. Paralympic medalists Jaleen Roberts (Kent, Washington) and Roderick Townsend (Stockton, California) each secured their second medals of the competition – Roberts with a silver in the women’s 100-meter T37 and Townsend a silver in the men’s long jump T47.
Blackwell, a newcomer to Para sport running in his first world championships, completed a sweep of his events with a gold medal in the 400-meter just days after his first world title in the 100-meter. He dominated the short distances in the men’s T38 races, setting a world record in the process.
In his 400-meter final today, Blackwell cruised to victory, topping the field by nearly two seconds. His time of 48.49 was more than a second faster than his previous personal best of 49.61, which he ran in yesterday’s prelim.
Blackwell competed in his first Para meet at U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships in May, and is now a two-time world champion and a 400-meter world record holder.
“I’m extremely excited and really happy,” Blackwell said. “My motto is to get on the blocks and run my race. I just put it all out there. This has been such an exciting experience and emotional experience for me. I did my 100 and my 400 for my grandmother, and this is also dedicated to my mom, my family, my coaches, my teammates, everybody that’s around me and who knows me, it’s for them.”
Frech, meanwhile, followed in the footsteps of his coach Townsend, who set a high jump world record of his own earlier in the week. In a mirror image of Townsend’s T47 world record performance on July 11, Frech earned his first career world title with a 1.86-meter jump, defeating Shailesh Kumar after the jumper from India failed to hit the mark.
With the gold medal in the bag, Frech elected to try for his world record. He ended up breaking it twice over – first at 1.91 meters on his third try, then at 1.95.
The previous men’s high jump T63 record was 1.90, held by Team USA’s Sam Grewe, who broke it at the 2019 Parapan American Games.
With the jump, Frech improved on his fifth-place finish in Tokyo, where he jumped 1.80 meters, by .15. He said that after Tokyo, he promised himself he would become world champion in Paris.
“I told myself that every day until now,” he said. “I convinced myself of it, so much so that I was mentally jumping against myself out there.”
With family and friends in the stands, Frech made that vision a reality.
“I’ve never felt a feeling like this in my entire life,” he said. “I put so much into this, so much blood, sweat and tears, my entire heart and soul. I have an amazing team around me, this is only possible because of them. This means the world to me, but I am not satisfied. Paralympic gold is next, we’ll be back here and I plan to do the exact same thing.”
The two-time Paralympic medalist Roberts nabbed her second silver of the meet in the women’s 100-meter T37 competition. She also took silver in long jump earlier in the week, and today ran a 12.94-second 100-meter, smashing her previous personal best of 13.10.
It was the first time in her career that Roberts has eclipsed the 13-second mark in her 100-meter sprint, a goal she said she has been working toward for a long time.
“I wanted to come out and get gold, but I came out and run sub-13, which is the first time I’ve ever done that, so I couldn’t really ask for more,” Roberts said. “That has always been a goal of mine since I started.”
In her long jump competition, Roberts jumped more than five meters for the first time in five years. She said the two results have given her confidence for not only her upcoming 200-meter race in Paris, but also for the next year as she builds toward attempting to qualify for her second Games.
Also earning his second medal at the 2023 world championships was Townsend, a four-time Paralympic medalist who put on an electrifying performance in the high jump earlier in the week in which he set a world record and won his fourth consecutive world title.
Townsend followed that with a silver in today’s men’s long jump T47. He jumped a season-best 7.31-meters and finished behind only Robiel Sol Cervantes of Cuba, who set a championship record with a 7.63-meter jump.
With the silver, Townsend duplicates the success he had at both the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2002 and the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships, where he won the high jump competition and placed second in long jump.
“I’m not too happy with it, but it went better than it could have,” he said. “I’m definitely looking forward to coming back here and bringing some more heat. That’s one of the amazing things about Paralympic sport – people come out of nowhere and are amazing and it definitely forces you to stay humble and hungry.”
In the evening session, Townsend moved to the coach’s box to coach Frech in high jump. He spoke to the importance of building the sport for the next generation and said that coaching the 18-year-old Frech is part of that legacy.
“I’ve known Ezra since 2015 and just to see him grow and develop as an athlete has been an extremely humbling experience,” Townsend said. “My goal for the future of the sport is to be what I wish I had when I came into it. As we get ready for LA 2028, I just want to make sure that the United States does an amazing job, and to me that means taking these young kids under my wing and coaching them.”
Paralympian Eva Houston (Omaha, Nebraska) set a personal best in her prelim of the women’s 100-meter T34 race then topped it in the final to record her best-ever major international result. Her fourth-place finish improves on her Tokyo performance, where she finished eighth.
Team USA’s Nick Mayhugh (Manassas, Virginia) and Ryan Medrano (Savannah, Georgia) also earned spots in the 400-meter T38 final, where they finished fourth and fifth, respectively, wrapping each of their sprinting competitions. In Paris, Mayhugh won the first world championships medal of his career, a bronze in the 100-meter, while Medrano made his international track and field debut and came away with two top-six finishes. Medrano is set to compete in the long jump T38 on Friday morning to round out his competition.
Making his Paris debut in the men’s 1500-meters T13, Team USA’s Joel Gomez (Encinitas, California) raced to a sixth-place result. A 2020 Paralympian, Gomez improved on his 10th-place finish in Tokyo. In a tightly contested, physical race, his 4:02.32 time was just two seconds off the lead pace and just over a second off the podium.
The 1500-meter wraps Gomez's second world championships appearance.
“I’m in the best fitness of my life for sure,” he said. “The things that have been hammered home to me at the last two Para meets I’ve ran in is it is physical. I’ve never ran in a physical race like this one, so that’s definitely something I need to work on and get tougher.”
In the women’s 100-meter T64, Paralympian Beatriz Hatz (Lakewood, Colorado) placed seventh in 13.13. The 100-meter was Hatz’s final event of the meet. Teammate Tatyana McFadden (Baltimore, Maryland) finished ninth in a tight women’s 1500-meter T54 final. Already a bronze medalist in Paris, McFadden will return for two more individual events – the 100-meter and the 400-meter – and has the potential to compete as a member of Team USA’s 4x100-meter mixed relay team.
Paralympian Tanner Wright (Abiliene, Texas) opened his world championships by qualifying for the event final of the 400-meter T47 in today’s prelim. Wright will compete in tomorrow night’s final after running 50.21 and placing third in his heat.
Competition at Charléty Stadium resumes July 14 at 9 a.m. local time. For viewers in the United States, all sessions are streamed live on Peacock, and live results can be found here. For live updates and results from Team USA, follow U.S. Paralympics Track & Field on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
For media requests and photo inquiries, please contact Kristen Gowdy at Kristen.Gowdy@usopc.org.
Team USA Medals – July 13
Jaydin Blackwell – men’s 400-meter T38
Ezra Frech – men’s high jump T63
Jaleen Roberts – women’s 100-meter T37
Roderick Townsend – men’s long jump T47