In the women’s paratriathlon debut at the Paralympics, Grace Norman (USA) in PT4, Allysa Seely (USA) in PT2 and Katie Kelly (AUS) in PT5 were crowned the first women’s Paralympic Champions.
Over the two days of races, a total of 10 different nations were represented in 19 possible podium positions, with five of the six gold medals going to different countries.
The day started with American Grace Norman being awarded the first women’s Paralympic gold medal after a back and forth battle on the course finally ended in her favour.
“It has been a long journey, a lot of training and just a lot of everything. So to come across that line for the U.S. and to take first in the history of paratriathlon is just an incredible feeling,” said Norman of her victory.
Completing the first podium of the day was Great Britain’s Lauren Steadman who finished with silver and Frenchwoman Gwladys Lemoussu who earned bronze.
Norman nabbed an early lead out of the water and went into the first transition with a slight advantage. Although two-time Paralympic swimmer Steadman was expected to lead out of the swim, she missed the first swim buoy and had to return to navigate around it, swimming an extra 25 metres. While she pushed hard to catch back up and exit the water in second, it was a pinnacle point in the race.
As the women made their way through the bike course, it only took one lap for Steadman to catch up to Norman and surpass the American. Knowing that Norman is a world record holding runner, Steadman hammered on the bike for a fighting chance at gold, but never manged to move more than five seconds ahead of Norman.
Trailing behind in third was Aussie Kate Doughty, who held strong a minute behind the leaders on the bike. As the top two women finished off the bike and made their way into the second transition, Steadman had increased her lead to 23 seconds heading out onto the run.
However, Norman, who will also be competing in athletics in the Paralympics in the 400 metre run, knows her strength is in the last discipline. It wasn’t long before she reclaimed the lead, this time never letting go. After the first lap she had overtaken Steadman for a ten-second advantage and by the time she crossed the finish line to make history, she had the lead by over a minute.
The silver then went to Steadman, who put in a valiant effort, despite the misstep early on in the swim.
Steadman said of her performance, “I had a fantastic start and I knew that it would be the swim where I could do some damage, but I just missed the orange buoy, so in that sense I went wrong at 25 metres, and I had to go back. So I went around the buoy in front of everybody, so I could see the Australian, I could see the American and I got right back in there. The whole swim I could see Grace there, but the tide would not allow me to get there. Then out on the bike I knew this was the place where I could get just a little bit ahead. I killed myself in the swim just to catch up and then I tried really hard on the bike and it just took my legs on the run. I was running fine, but she was just there and she is a phenomenal runner and I gave it my all and I am very proud of my silver medal.”
The podium was completed when Frenchwoman Lemoussu crossed the line for the bronze, putting in a brilliant run to overtake Doughty.
The U.S. women made history in more ways than one when Allysa Seely, Hailey Danisewicz and Melissa Stockwell swept the very first PT2 paratriathlon Paralympics podium after dominating performances.
While all three women took their turn leading at some point of the race at one point, ultimately it was Seely who came out on top and grabbed the first-ever Paralympic gold medal. Danisewicz finished with the silver and the top two women cheered on compatriot Stockwell from the finish line as she finished off the complete American podium with the bronze.
“It has been an amazing season, I knew that I had a really strong swim out there and I wanted to get as much out in front as I could and get as much time as I could between me and my competitors. Coming off the bike I knew I had a lot of work to do, but I just put my head down and I went for it. I am a runner at heart and that is my soul, so I really just gave it everything I had and I am just really really excited with how everything turned out,” said Seely of how her performance helped earn her the historical gold.
Stockwell started the U.S. dominance of the day in the swim, when she positioned herself as the swim leader. Exiting the waters with a lead of 28 seconds, she was followed in by Japan’s Yukako Hata, Seely and Finland’sLiisa Lilja. But Seely’s swift transition put her right in the mix with Stockwell and the two women headed out onto the bike together.
After only one lap on the bike it was clear that the USA were gunning for a sweep as Danisewicz joined Seely and Stockwell out in front. Halfway through the second discipline, it was Danisewicz who then took over as the leader and had created a 30 second gap ahead of the competition, a gap that would extend into almost two minutes heading into the second transition.
Seely and Stockwell found themselves riding as a duo for the latter half of the bike and would enter the run course together in hot pursuit of Danisewicz.
It took only one lap on the run for Seely, who will go on to compete in athletics later in the Paralympics, to break down the gap to only 18 seconds behind Danisewicz and during the final kilometres, Seely bypassed her compatriot and captured the lead for herself all the way down the finish chute.
Danisewicz held off any other upsets and followed in to claim the silver medal. While the two women celebrated at the finish line, it was then that the USA cheers roared as Stockwell closed out the day by taking the bronze and securing the US sweep, a sweep that meant a little extra on the day as it was also the 15th year anniversary of September 11th.
“To be able to be on the podium with two of my greatest friends, two USA teammates, two training partners, this is one of the greatest moments of my life. I am so excited, I am thrilled, I am absolutely thrilled. Today is also the 15th anniversary of Septemeber 11th. Every year it is a meaningful day for me because I lost my leg in Iraq, so to be here representing the USA with the USA uniform on and competing in the world’s biggest athletic stage and when it got really tough out there I thought of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and never made it back and it motivated me to the finish. I was just wanting to give my thanks to them,” said Stockwell of the incredible day.
Ending the day and the paratriathlon competition at the Paralympmics, it was time for the PT5 women to compete for the remaining three Paralympic medals. After a race that saw the leaderboard change multiple times, it was Aussie Katie Kelly, alongside guide Michellie Jones who was able to hold onto the final leader position and claim the debut gold medal, continuing her undefeated career.
“I thought I couldn’t (slow down in the finish chute),” Kelly said of her thoughts when realizing she would be the Paralympic champion. “I didn’t know what lead we had. I just do it for the kids in Australia living with a disability. I never imagined that I’d be here to win gold and it’s an honor to do it. Anyone with a disability can take a crack at something and do what they love, and that’s what I was doing out there.
“Katie was unbelievable out there,” her guide 2000 Olympic silver medallist Michellie Jones said. “When I asked her to go harder, she went harder, most athletes wouldn’t have done it and that’s just testament to who she is. She’s so determined. I love her to death, there’s nothing better when you can get someone to do a little more. Coming down the finish chute she wanted to keep sprinting and I had to tell her to enjoy the moment.
Rounding out the final two medals were Brits Alison Patrick and Melissa Reid who earned the silver and bronze.
The Netherlands’ Joleen Hakker got the day started with a 30-second advantage after tackling the ocean swim. However, despite the lead entering the first transition, as the women headed out onto the bike, a group of five all came into contention.
Hakker, Patrick, Reid, Kelly and Spain’s Susana Rodriguez Gacio started out the four-lap bike course all within 30 seconds of each other. After one lap, the battle only became hotter as all five women still were cycling as the front pack, but this time only 13 seconds separated the leader from fifth place.
Not until the midway point on the bike did the podium start to form. Brits Reid and Patrick pulled away slightly to ride as the top two, but Kelly was only seconds behind in third with no signs of backing down.
It was then on the third lap that Kelly made a move to push ahead of the Brits and into first. From there, she continued to forge ahead of the field, entering the second transition with a 10-second lead over Reid, who had advanced 20 seconds ahead of compatriot Patrick.
Onto the run, Kelly never let up, running clear of the competition to win the final gold medal of offer for the day. Behind her, Patrick also stretched out her lead over the remaining competitors to run over for silver.
With an incredible bike and run, the USA’s Elizabeth Baker had made up more than a minute deficit from the swim to get into third position on the run. With 200 metres left to go, it looked like bronze was hers, as she had passed Reid on the two-lap run. However, a late surge from Patrick put pressure on Baker to speed up. Entering the finish chute nearly neck and neck, Baker suffered a fall with 50 metres to go, which meant Reid had the chance to run by her for the bronze. Baker picked herself up and walked across the line for fourth.