The news was celebrated on social media by Paralympic athletes, many of whom are training for the 2020 Tokyo Games.
“This is such exciting news, because out of the 15 years I’ve been involved with the Paralympics, it’s always been separate names,” Tatyana McFadden, a wheelchair racer who’s won 17 medals competing at the past four Paralympics, said in a video posted to Twitter. “It’s finally really exciting we’re joining as one.”
Swimmer Brad Snyder is a five-time Paralympic gold medalist, having competed at the 2012 and ’16 Games. He was appointed to the USOC’s board of directors in January, and Wednesday’s gathering in Chicago marked just his second meeting. He was near tears, he said, when the motion passed.
“It was nested amongst a couple of other things we were talking about, so it kind of came up quickly,” he said in a video posted to Twitter. “The mood in the room instantly changed, and everyone was happy. I just smiled. I didn’t really realize the most historic vote I would make as a board member would come in my second meeting.”
The USOPC becomes one of the first national Olympic committees in the world to recognize Paralympians in its name. The change, which has been in the works for about six months, is effective immediately, and the organization updated its branding online and on social media accounts. Physical signage at USOPC facilities will be updated soon as well. The new name will also be reflected in a new museum that is scheduled to open later this year in Colorado Springs
Oksana Masters, a four-time Paralympian, called it an “amazing and monumental day” and said she felt “like a kid in a candy shop.”
“To me, as a Paralympic athlete, it’s a show that the USOPC is truly . . . including them and celebrating them and embracing Paralympics athletes as an important part of Team USA as a whole,” she said.
The change comes as the organization has been trying to recover from sexual abuse controversies that have rocked several national governing bodies and forced leadership changes at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Both the U.S. House and Senate are considering bills that would call for further examination of the committee’s role, responsibilities and authority over Olympic sports in the United States.
The United States has sent a contingent of athletes to the Paralympics dating back to the inaugural Rome Games in 1960. There were 279 U.S. Paralympians at the Rio Games in 2016, when Americans won 115 total medals, fourth-most of any nation. More recently, 73 U.S. Paralympians competed in the PyeongChang Winter Games last year, winning 36 medals, 13 of which were gold — all more than any other country.
The name change is just the latest push to put the U.S. Paralympians on equal footing with Olympians. Last year the board voted to increase monetary awards for U.S. Paralympic medalists to match those earned by Olympic athletes. Medalists from PyeongChang Paralympics were retroactively rewarded more money, too, at that time.
“I think it means the United States is willing to take a leadership role in the world in ensuring that Paralympics achieves parity across the board,” said Snyder, who holds two world records for blind swimmers. “It sends a strong message.”