Tensions were high among the paratri squad following the previous night’s storms, which had delayed the Junior Men’s Champs by two hours. With more inclement weather forecast today, the GB squad had had a restless night. As time changes were announced for the Women’s Elite and Junior events, the paratri squad breathed a sigh of relief when their event was given the green light as planned.
PT4 GB athlete Lauren Steadman hasn’t lost a race since May 2014, and having won the Olympic test event in August the reigning world champ went in to the final with a sizeable target on her back. Never one to play it safe, however, Steadman pushed hard to guarantee her 10th consecutive win.
“That was probably my toughest race yet, said Steadman. “Obviously the standard has risen a lot since last year. I didn’t have the best swim, on the bike I was holding, I wasn’t getting further away and then my head coach and my father said ‘look, you’ve got to have the best 5k of your life.’ [US National Paratri champion and eventual silver medallist] Grace Norman is a track runner and has the ability to outrun me easily. I just focused on my form and it took me home.
“This is a stepping stone for next year and again I’ve got to up my game 10 times as much because next year they’re going to come at me twice as hard.”
Second at last year’s champs and third in the Rio test event, Faye McClelland followed Steadman through in fourth place.
“I’m a bit gutted about that but I’ve got to be pleased because I’ve had a bit of an up-and-down season with injury and niggles,” said McClelland. “But I had a solid race. The swim I was on my own so I didn’t have anyone’s feet to catch and I knew I was playing catch-up. I went out to go as hard as possible on the bike but I started fatiguing on the second lap. I kept pushing and I was pleased it was consistent. Then the run has been causing me issues for some months but all in all my run was fine and I was making some ground on third place, but it just wasn’t enough. It’s great points for next year but I’m disappointed to not medal for the first time.”
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Relative newcomer to the sport, PT2 athlete Ryan Taylor has been slowly making his way up the top 10 since his first ITU race last May. With a win at the Detroit Paratri event in August, the Worlds were always going to be a tougher challenge for the 22-year-old. But running through the line for bronze, Taylor had a grin as wide as the 46sec gap to fourth place: “I had a decent swim, fell off on the first corner on the bike, so basically I was on catch-up on the bike to get back to the group. But I know my run isn’t the strongest so I just ran into third. I’m really happy, really happy! Such a great result for me. Even with a mistake on the bike I now know I can run through the field.”
Teammate and fellow PT2er Andy Lewis crossed the line in a disappointing 10th, having done one too many laps of the bike leg.
“I was third on the bike and then I just stupidly did an extra lap,” he lamented. “I made up another three or four places on the run, but still, to come to a world champs and mess it up… but it’s a learning curve. I was having a really good race up until then.”
Reigning PT5 champ Alison Patrick and guide Hazel Smith faced new competitors in the shape of Aussies Katie Kelly and guide Michellie Jones. Yes, that Michellie Jones, former ITU and Ironman world champion and Olympian. But crossing the line in second, Patrick and Smith couldn’t have been more pleased:
“We had a really hard swim and a solid bike, taking the first lap a little cautiously cause it was wet,” said a Patrick post-race. “We were in the lead going into the bike but they [Kelly and Jones] caught us up, and then we were just catching on the run. But we’re actually really excited because that gives us something to drive for for next year. I’ve not been pushed on the run this year, this is the first race and it’s exciting. It just means that next year we’re going to have to be better.”
Teammate and reigning silver medallists Melissa Reid and her guide Nicole Walters had a day to forget following a puncture during the bike leg. But they still managed a top-10 finish with a sixth place.
“It was at the furthest point from the wheel stop possible!” said Reid. “We were second at that point, going really well. But there’s nothing you can do and you just stick back in as soon as you can. At least it happened today and not next year [in Rio]. It’s disappointing but there are plenty of positives to be taken from today.”
George Peasgood (PT4) was in fine shape at the end of the bike leg, exiting T2 in fourth place. But with the run his biggest weakness, he was soon chased down before finishing in ninth place, two places behind teammate David Hill, who was racing only his second event of the year due to injury.
“This whole experience has been an absolute bonus this year,” admitted Hill at the line. “I was ready to put my head down and begin a very tough 12 months’ training in the lead-up to Rio. I was really hoping to be in the top 10 today, so a really solid performance. I executed my race plan pretty much to perfection and then just really hunted people down on that run.”
“Straight away it was hard, a straight point-to-point swim, and then on the bike I just tried to hold it in there,” said Peasgood at the finish. “Then as soon as I got to the run it just wasn’t quite my day again. For me, it’s been really challenging this year, but overall I think it’s been a really good season.”
The last wave to come through was PT1. Phil Hogg was the first Brit male over the line in sixth, followed by Joe Townsend in seventh.
“Tough race,” said Hogg at the line. “I had to put some demons to bed after my poor performance in Rio [Phil had been ill in the lead-up and had to seek medial attention at the end of the race, but still finished sixth]. But all my race processes went really well. I’m happy with my performance, but I know I couldn’t have gone any harder. The swim was just amazing. The bike was strong and the run took a lap to get into it, just cause I’d gone so hard on the bike. But I’m pretty happy.”
Lizzie Tench, racing in PT1, took the team’s final medal of the day with a bronze. A regular podium visitor in the wheelchair category, Tench sadly won’t be attending the Games as women’s PT1 isn’t featuring. For the women, Rio will host PT2, PT4 and PT5, and for the men it’s PT1, PT2 and PT4.