Three weeks to the day since Vicky Holland crossed the line to take bronze, and with it GB’s first-ever women’s Olympic tri medal, the same blue carpet bore witness to yet more history making – Andy Lewis taking gold in the men’s PT2 category. As important and fantastic an achievement as this was, what made this more significant was that it occurred during triathlon’s Paralympic debut. The first time paratri has featured in any Paralympic Games.
Watching Lewis’ race unfold alongside the many and varied personal battles playing out along the Copacabana Beach, it seemed so normal, it just worked, of course the paratriathlon was at the Paralympics, why wouldn’t it have been? It belongs there, it’s an outstanding spectator sport – it thrills, it enthralls, it excites.
And when your home team delivers medals it does all the above and more. 220 had the pleasure of spending two days in Loughborough last year, watching as the team went about its business of moulding a Paralympic-worthy team in their world-class training Hub.
Even if they hadn’t produced the four medals in Rio, the GB squad achieved their goal just by sending the biggest tri team of any nation to Brazil; each and every member of the 13-strong squad (including two guides Nicole Walters and Hazel Smith) and the vast coaching team perfectly at home on the biggest sporting stage of them all.
So how does it feel to have surpassed even their high expectations? We caught up with head coach Jonathan Riall after the competitions.
“Well, it was unbelievable. [When Andy won] I was emotional beyond what I thought I might be actually. It’s been a long time in the making, a lot of hard work has gone in. A huge team has worked incredibly hard and to see Andy pull that off was just spectacular.
“You can just see the state some of the guys are in crossing the finish line,” Riall continued, “they’ve given it everything. And that’s all we can ask for. It’s just nice to know that they can finish their race and look like they’ve had the best race they’ve ever had.”
British Triathlon’s performance director Brendan Purcell knows how to produce a world-beating team, but while in Rio to help with the Paralympic team on a logistic level the show was very much being run by Riall.
“I see myself as a bit of a backstop. They know I’ve got their back. It’s easy for me to say I’ve done my job [with the Olympic team] but this is just as important for me.
“From a British perspective, awesome, four medals. But from a paratriathlon perspective, the best racing I’ve ever seen. It felt like everyone stepped up. I thought the men’s PT4 racing was outstanding. Look at these athletes, they’re just as good as the elites, if not better. They’re performance athletes, they might not be quite as quick but there’s a reason behind that. But that was outstanding, a sensational race. I loved every minute of that.
“If you’re someone who likes sport and that hasn’t got you excited then you’re dead inside. Cause that was exceptional.”
If only the multisporting world had had chance to see the action unfold. Not even the crowds lining the Copacabana course could view the full race as there was no live feed at the venue, just splits flashing up at the finish line. We can but hope that the Tokyo organisers deemed it worthy enough for a live broadcast come 2020.
But back to the action that was witnessed by the fortuitous followers in Rio. Beaming with pride once again after the women’s events brought GB’s final medal tally to four, courtesy of Lauren Steadman’s and Alison Patrick’s silvers and Melissa Reid’s bronze, Riall summed up the squad’s achievements:
“The guys just gave absolutely everything out there and in such tough conditions. The sport over the last two years has just progressed so so much, you can see the results, they’re going flat out at the end. The guys have raced hard and they’ve raced their best and the results are fare. They should be really really proud of themselves.
“I think for me personally, it’s seven years of a journey that started from zero. So to be going home with four athletes who are Paralympic medallists, it has quite a nice ring to it. And it sets a foundation for where the programme will continue to go. We’ve done so much work to be the best prepared and I think we were. And hopefully this will inspire a few more athletes to get involved.”
If you’re interested in giving paratri, or any Paralympic sport, a go, head to http://www.uksport.gov.uk/our-work/talent-id
And for a full report and exclusive images from all six of the Paralymic paratri events, be sure to pick up the November issue of 220, on sale 11 October.