Great Britain brought thirteen athletes to Copacabana Beach in search of Paralympic success in the sport’s debut at the Paralympic Games. In the team, world champions, European champions and young paratriathletes were all aiming to prove themselves amongst the best on the planet.
How the first Paratriathlon sport classifications were defined:
The classifications for paratriathlon’s inaugural Paralympic Games were set out as follows:
PT1 - Wheelchair users. Athletes use a recumbent handcycle on the bike course and a racing wheelchair on the run segment.
PT2 - Athletes with comparable activity limitation and an impairment of, but not limited to, limb deficiency, hypertonia, ataxia and or athetosis, impaired muscle power or range of movement. In both bike and run segments, amputee athletes may use approved prosthesis or other supportive devices.
PT4 - As above with less severe impairment.
PT5 - Total or partial visual impairment with less than 10% vision, competes with a guide.
The Men’s PT1 field included two British athletes, European Championship bronze medallist, Joe Townsend and 2013 European champion, Phil Hogg.
An Afghanistan veteran, Townsend worked hard for his 6th place finish, entering the first transition in last place. Townsend showed incredible determination to put down the fastest time across the final discipline (00:11:49) and crossed the line in a time of 01:04:43, just three minutes from bronze medallist, Giovanni Achenza (ITA).
Four minutes later, Phil Hogg completed his race. Hogg took 8th place, finishing ahead of both Nic Beveridge (AUS) and Jumpei Kimura (JPN). The Netherlands’ Jetze Plat took gold.
History was made in the Men’s PT2 category when Andy Lewis marched to a monumental victory to complete what was already an incredible season. Lewis had already taken the title of both world and European champion and had now been crowned Paralympic champion on Copacabana Beach.
Not only did Lewis win Great Britain’s first paratriathlon medal at a Paralympic Games, but he secured the first ever gold in paratriathlon for ParalympicsGB. He took the tape in emphatic fashion, charging through the field on the run to top the podium.
Lewis had to come from behind after entering the first transition one minute behind USA’s Mark Barr. Along with compatriot Ryan Taylor, the British pair shone on the run, recording the fastest splits of the race leading Lewis to a historic Paralympic gold. Taylor finished in 6th.
Lewis said: “I can’t believe that has happened. I’m just in shock, I’m Paralympic, world and European champion and perhaps I’ll have my first beer in two years now!”
He added: “When I came across that finish line, I held the tape in the air and wondered whether it was all real. Paratriathlon is a great addition to the Paralympics and it brings tears to my eyes that I’ll be able to tell my kids that I won this gold medal.”
George Peasgood, age 20 at the time, was the youngest member of Great Britain’s paratriathlon squad and entered the Games a two-time national champion (2015, 2016).
Peasgood made an impressive start to his Paralympic career, forging a big lead on the swim and bike sections before being overtaken on the run. Peasgood finished in 7th place, with a time of 01:06:08.
After the race, Peasgood said: “I had more of a lead after the swim than I expected, I really nailed it. I tried to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy it. I knew the run would be tough, but I did all I could and I’m really happy with the result.”
Racing alongside Peasgood in the PT4 category, David Hill also had experience of being the youngest member of a ParalympicsGB team when he travelled to Athens in 2004 as a swimmer. Hill took his first national title in 2014 and finished behind Peasgood in Rio in 10th place. The PT4 title was won by Martin Schulz of Germany.
The Women’s PT4 race was always set up to make for exciting viewing and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Despite the sport debuting at the Paralympics, Lauren Steadman had represented ParalympicsGB as a swimmer in 2008 and 2012, taking to Rio a wealth of Paralympic experience.
Taking the title of world champion in both 2014 and 2015 and European champion in 2016, Steadman also had the credentials across the sport to hold her own against the likes of USA’s Grace Norman, France’s Gwladys Lemoussu and Australia’s Kate Doughty to name a few in the field.
Unfortunately, the race began with a mistake from Steadman, when she took a wrong turn in the swim and fell behind Norman. Steadman’s compatriots, Clare Cunningham and Faye McClelland left the water in fourth and eighth place respectively.
Steadman knew that she would have to push hard during the bike section as she was pursued by a number of strong runners including Norman of the USA. Steadman recorded the fastest bike leg (00:36:44) and completed the race in 01:11:43 to take silver, with the 18-year-old, Grace Norman taking the tape.
McClelland, who had won four consecutive world titles since beginning the sport in 2009 demonstrated her experience in the final leg of the race where she came from seventh after the bike to fourth at the finish.
Clare Cunningham was a Paralympic swimming champion in Barcelona 1992. She also had a world title under her belt, taking the crown in 2009. Cunningham finished in an excellent 7th place to secure what was a great race for British women.
Following the race, Steadman said: “I had a fantastic start, I knew that the swim would be where I could do some damage. I just missed the second buoy, in that sense I went wrong, I had to go back around the buoy. The tide had taken Grace before I could get there.”
Steadman added: “I tried really hard on the bike and it took my legs for the run. Grace is a phenomenal runner. I gave it my all and I’m very proud of my silver medal. I’m on the podium.”
Alison Peasgood came to triathlon in 2013 and subsequently won the world title in 2014 and 2016. Entering the Games as the current world champion, Peasgood was joined by her compatriot, Melissa Reid who shared the podium with her at the 2016 World Championships.
Both Peasgood and Reid had promising starts, leaving the swim in second and third place. The British athletes maintained their composure and continued to push forward, with Melissa Reid and her guide, Nicole Walters recording a bike split just 18 seconds off of eventual winner, Katie Kelly (AUS).
Reid fell behind on the run, being passed by the USA’s Elizabeth Baker. However, in a dramatic sprint finish for the bronze medal, Walters urged Reid to speed up and this turn of pace saw Baker fall. This all but sealed the podium finish for Reid, as she secured the bronze medal. Reid joined Peasgood on the podium, who finished one-minute after Kelly to take the silver.
On the dramatic climax, Reid said: “The crowd right at the finish when we were in fourth place were just screaming and screaming, the last 100m, it was just ridiculous.”
Walters added: “I knew the Americans were fading so I was just shouting to Melissa, ‘come on, we can do this, we can get that medal’. It was incredible, the crowd was amazing, and I was really proud of Melissa to have got there at the end.”
Alison Peasgood reflected on the race, saying: “We hadn’t seen them [the Australians] race all season so we didn’t know where they were at, but they were very strong. We felt the heat massively today on the run, which is normally my strength and where I’d usually make up any time that I’d lost on anyone, but it was just so tough today.”
The PT5 event rounded off a successful weekend for British paratriathletes. The team won a total of one gold, two silvers and one bronze medal.
Paratriathlon will return to the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, 2021. No longer a debutant, Great Britain will travel to Japan with the experience of Rio 2016 to reflect upon, as they search for more Paralympic glory.
Photo Credits: ITU Media