History was made today as the visually-impaired category made its Commonwealth Games debut. Under a blanket of grey cloud and persistent drizzle, Dave Ellis (with guide Luke Pollard) and Katie Crowhurst (with guide Jessica Fullagar in only their second race together) brightened up the proceedings with world-class sprint-distance performances in front of a supportive Sutton Park crowd.
Who were the favourites for the Commonwealth Games paratri races?
As the world-ranked No. 1 the pressure was well and truly on England’s Dave Ellis, and guide Luke Pollard, as they headed into today’s Commonwealth Games PTVI visually-impaired race in Birmingham.
But the reigning world, European and British champions knew more than most how quickly dreams and aspirations can be shattered, after suffering a race-ending snapped chain on the bike in the Tokyo Paralympics.
On the women’s side, Scotland’s Alison Peasgood had the target on her back in the PTVI class. The 2016 Paralympic silver medallist, racing with her Rio guide Hazel MacLeod, and also hoping to fair better than in Tokyo where she finished an agonising fourth.
But she knew she couldn’t underestimate the fast-improving Katie Crowhurst from Maidenhead, who was racing as England’s sole representative.
The 18-year-old, who’s currently awaiting her A-level results, only moved from swimming to paratri last year and was guided by Jess Fullager, who placed third in the junior world championship in Lausanne in 2019; the Commonwealths being the pair’s second only race together.
What happened in the paratri swim at the Commonwealth Games?
As with the men’s and women’s individual races on Friday, Powell’s Pool played host to a 750m wetsuit-optional swim. For the visually-impaired athletes, they started in the water with what’s called a ‘factor’ for those classed as completely blind (the B1s athletes).
In the men’s, Australia’s Gerrard Gosens and guide Hayden Armstrong started 2:46mins ahead; while Canada’s Jessica Tuomela and guide Emma Skaug started with a 3:19min factor.
As predicted Ellis and Pollard took to the lead, with team-mates Oscar Kelly (with patriotic flame-red hair) and guide Charlie Harding in close contention, exiting the swim 36secs behind. Aussies Sam Harding and guide Luke Harvey followed in third place.
Tuomela/Skaug were first out for the women, while England’s Katie Crowhurst and guide Jessica Fullager were second in 59secs down and Peasgood and guide Macleod were third 1:07mins down.
What happened in the paratri bike at the Commonwealth Games?
Onto the 4 x 5km-lap 20km tandem bike leg, and Ellis/Pollard had complete control of the men’s race, soaking in the crowd-lined streets along the entire route as they put distance between them and the chasers, Harding/Harvey.
Devastatingly for the young English pair of Kelly/Harding, a puncture saw them being lapped by the leaders on the second bike lap.
As the sun came out, Tuomela/Skaug were leading the women’s race ahead of England’s Crowhurst/Fullager, but on lap two and the English pair were up with them and past to take the gold-medal position. Peasgood/Macleod, meanwhile, were settled in third until a crash destroyed their race chances.
What happened in the paratri run at the Commonwealth Games?
Ellis/Pollard were in a race of their own on the 2 x 2.5km 5km run lap, leaving T2 with more than 1min in hand over the Aussie pairing of Harding/Harvey.
The World No.1s, in a class of their own, ran down the finish line brandishing a St George’s flag between them to add Commonwealth gold to their already-overflowing trophy cabinet.
Aussies Harding/Harvey followed for silver and teammates Jonathan Goerlach (the only other PTVI athlete from the Commonwealth aside from Ellis to compete in Tokyo), with guide David Mainwaring, took bronze.
In the women’s race, Crowhurst/Fullager hit the run with a 43sec cushion over the Canadian duo, never looking back to cross the line as Commonwealth champions on debut.
But there was a final switch for medals on the final lap as Northern Ireland’s Chloe Maccombe and guide Catherine Sands turned onto the blue carpet in silver-medal position. Tuomela/Skaug followed in for bronze.
Quotes from men’s PTVI commonwealth champion, Dave Ellis
On winning the Commonwealth title: “This is unbelievable. So happy to do what we needed to do. Last year [Tokyo] was just so disappointing and I didn’t want to go through that feeling again, so this was the polar opposite.”
On coming back from injury at the start of the year: “I did the injury at the right time, and I had plenty of time to recover. it left me a little bit weaker in the swim originally but it gave us enough time to get back at the top.”
On knowing they’d won the race: “Well we didn’t know what the gap was. we knew we were going well, but we just wanted to keep running well. Then just after we crested the hill on the last lap, we were like yeah, if anyone comes past us now we’ll have to get them really quick!”
On how they’ll celebrate: “We’re racing next week in Swansea [WPCS]!”
Quotes from women’s PTVI Commonwealth champion, Katie Crowhurst
On her race: “We were a little worried that with the weather the crowd wouldn’t cheer as much as they did but they were amazing. And then it was just push through each discipline, you can’t relax on any of it. So to have Jess there was really amazing to help me push through the pain.”
Jessica on Katie: “I think she’s got so much potential. We’re honest with each other and I think that what made us such a good team today. I’m just so lucky that Katie let me have this opportunity with her so I’ll be forever grateful.”
On being a Commonwealth champion: “I mean it’s just amazing. I’m so shocked and speechless to be honest. I wasn’t really expecting it, it’s been amazing and I’m just so grateful for Jess and everyone that came out and supported.”
Top image: Ben Lumley/World Triathlon