The rearranged Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo was one of the highlights of the triathlon calendar with the athletes providing golden moments across a summer of sport.
A combined total of thirteen athletes and three paratriathlon guides represented Team GB and ParalympicsGB in Tokyo, with the races across both events taking place in Odaiba Bay.
One person who was present as both the Olympics and Paralympics unfolded was Mike Cavendish, British Triathlon Performance Director, with him taking the time to reflect on the summer.
One of the many history making moments for Team GB came in the mixed relay, with the format making its Games debut this year. Jess Learmonth, Jonny Brownlee, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Alex Yee became the first gold medal winners in triathlon’s team event, proving too strong for the competition.
“We came into it fourth in the world,” Cavendish commented. “All of us, coaches and athletes, knew that if we executed things the way we knew we could, we absolutely had a shout of winning.
“It was just so nice to see a plan that we’ve been working on for the past two or three years on a one-day, one-race scenario come off. Now we’re the team to beat and everyone’s looking at us, and there’s a lot that we got right and also some stuff that we can improve on.
“As a spectacle, it was just a fantastic event and I’ve had so many people tell me how they didn’t know much about triathlon and after the mixed relay they’re now hooked.
“We’re all about peaking once every four years, so we will take the next couple of years to experiment and try different combinations to give different athlete an opportunity so that we’re in an even better position in three years’ time.”
Following the conclusion of the Olympic Games, where Yee and Taylor-Brown also won silver in the individual races, it was the turn of the Paralympians to set about achieving their dreams as they took centre-stage.
“The racing speaks for itself,” added Cavendish. “There’s some fantastic racing, some brilliant stories, some heart-breaking moments, and that’s the kind of thing for our sport to grow and for people to want to watch it.
“There weren’t as many medals [compared to Rio 2016] and it didn’t go quite as perfectly for us in the Paralympics as it did in the Olympics but that’s elite sport. There’s no way we could have expected to come out of both the Olympics and Paralympics having had five absolutely perfect days and unfortunately there was one day were almost everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong for us and pretty much all of that was outside anyone’s control.
“On the second day of the Paralympic races, we came home with medals for each athlete, and it was great to see Lauren achieve what we all knew she could. She had an excellent race and even though she still had small issues, like dropping her bike during transition, she still maintained her composure to display her dominance in the sport.
“George was strong from start to finish and for him to come back from injury in Yokohama and to perform in that way was fantastic to see. Then for Claire to make her debut, deal with the curve ball of a slightly confusing penalty mid-race and still perform in the way that she did shows her class and continued potential to go even further in Paris.”
“My highlight at both Games were the celebrations we had afterwards,” Cavendish explained. “It’ll be those emotions and those memories that will stick with me and those are my standouts.
“They were slightly different for each, for the Olympics, the restaurant we ate in every day was closed off to have a private few hours with the entire team, and it was just the culmination of five hard years. To share that moment with the team was just a really special place to be.
“The Paralympics was the same. We were fortunate to have an outside terrace overlooking the bay and the way the team came together and celebrated and supported one another for those who hadn’t performed so well was just a really special feeling and those are the things ultimately I personally will remember in ten, twenty, thirty years’ time.”
Looking ahead to Paris, it’s already been announced that paratriathlon will have the highest number of classifications included at a Paralympic Games in its third inclusion. In total, eleven have been named, building on the six in Rio and eight in Tokyo.
Paris will also see Team GB attempt to defend the mixed relay crown from this year, with Cavendish stating that the preparations are already underway.
“There’s very rarely a break, even in a normal four-year cycle you’re back in pretty quickly, and even more so now and we’re already planning for camps and competitions for the next year,” Cavendish said.
“Much like for Tokyo, we will be wanting to dry run all of the things we would like to do for the Olympics and Paralympics in 2024, assuming that there will be a test event in 2023, which means we want to have pretty much all of it set at the latest by the middle of next summer.”
In-between now and Paris however are the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, where athletes will represent their Home Nation in individual triathlon, individual PTVI paratriathlon and mixed relay triathlon.
This is the first time that the Commonwealth Games have been held in Britain since Glasgow in 2014, with the multi-sport competition providing an additional opportunity to view elite swim, bike, run action on top of the World Triathlon Championship Series Leeds in sprint and mixed relay triathlon, and World Triathlon Para Series Swansea, the first standalone race of this level to take place in Britain.