Stefan Daniel made history as the first paratriathlete to earn a medal at the Paralympics on Sunday, taking silver in the men’s P4 category in Rio.
The 19-year-old Calgarian, who was the youngest athlete in the field, clocked a silver medal time of 1:03:05.
“Today was a historic moment for our sport. I have had to work very hard over the last years to get here. It is a great feeling to stand on the podium, and I’m going to cherish this silver medal forever,” said Daniel.
“Today was the biggest race I’ve ever done. I didn’t feel any pre-race jitters out of the ordinary. I kept telling myself I’ve done this a million times, and ultimately, it was the same guys I’m always around.”
One of those guys happened to be his top rival – Germany’s Martin Schultz.
A race that was being touted early in the week as a heavyweight bout between the teenage Canuck and the 26-year-old German lived up to its billing. The duo, which has split the last three World Championship titles, put on a para-triathlon clinic for the thousands of spectators that lined the streets and beaches of Copacabana.
When the dust finally settled, it was Schultz finishing 28 seconds ahead of Daniel to take the first-ever Paralympic gold medal in the sport with a time of 1:02:37.
“I wish my swim and bike was a little better today. I just didn’t have the bike legs so that is a bit disappointing. Martin was the better athlete today,” added Daniel, who battled the choppy, high surf in the Atlantic Ocean with the top 11 para-triathletes in the world.
With George Peasgood, of Great Britain, coming out of the 750-metre wetsuit swim in first spot, Schultz was fourth and Daniel 22 seconds behind his rival in fifth. The race was decided on the technical 20-kilometre bike course where Schultz hammered the pace.
Once taking the lead at the midway point, the German opened a big gap on the field before second transition. He was one minute, 56 seconds ahead of Daniel, who pedaled his way into third spot on the third lap of the bike, but dropped back into fourth before putting his running shoes on.
“I just didn’t have the bike legs today, but it is no excuse. I wasn’t in a podium position off the bike so I had to run as hard as I could,” added Daniel.
Running shoes on, the University of Calgary student darted out of second transition and showed the world he has the heart of a lion, putting down the fastest run of the day while chasing the podium over the five-kilometre test.
After bolting into medal position, Daniel picked off Spain’s Jairo Ruiz Lopez midway through the second and final lap of the run to get within sight of Schultz. The feisty Canuck was able to make up 75 seconds on the leader, but eventually reached the end of the road in his quest for gold.
“I gave everything I could so I am very proud to get the silver,” said Daniel. “I was trying to catch him (Schultz). I knew I had the run legs, but I just ran out of real estate today.”
Spain’s Jairo Ruiz Lopez held on for the bronze with a time of 1:03:14.
It has been a storybook run for Daniel who was born with bilateral radial club hands, with his right arm significantly more affected.
Born into an athletic family who share a passion for swimming, biking and running, Daniel began triathlon just four years ago. He first introduced himself to the triathlon world by winning a bronze (2013) and silver medal (2014) in his first two trips to the World Championships.
Daniel was nearly unstoppable in 2015. He won his first title at the premiere international para-triathlon dance – outside the Paralympics – one year ago in Chicago, and racked up three golds and one silver during the summer while competing in the deepest classification in the world Para-triathlon circles. To top off his dream season last year, he also defied all odds to capture the junior men’s able-bodied National Championship crown in Magog, Que.
But each step of this rising stars epic journey has had one soldier in his path to the podium – Germany’s Schultz.
“He is a great athlete. We both are going to be around for a long time so I’m sure we’ll have a lot more battles in the future. Unfortunately he was the better athlete today so I have to give him credit,” said Daniel. “But this is just the beginning. I know our sport is going to grow each year and so am I. I’m already looking forward to Tokyo.”
Top 10 finishes for Givens, Robbins and Boulton
hree Canadians put down a spirited effort as women’s triathlon debuted at the Paralympic Games on Sunday in Rio de Janeiro.
Winnipeg’s Chantal Givens was relentless in her eighth-place finish in the PT4 classification, while two women from the nation’s capital – Christine Robbins and her guide Sasha Boulton – placed 10th in the PT5 division to round out two stellar days of competition for para-triathlon on its official introduction to the Paralympic program.
The 37-year-old Givens came out of the water in 11th spot after a challenging 750-metre swim off the shores of Copacabana Beach. A school teacher by trade, Givens was unable to pick up time on the elite field despite a solid four laps on the 20-kilometre bike along Rio’s famed coastline.
“I felt decent through the whole thing. I was disappointed to get off the bike and realize I didn’t gain anything,” said Givens, who admitted the challenging part of a triathlon for her is the swim. “I got to the (five kilometre) run and I wanted to salvage what I could of the race. I gave it everything I could and overtook three people.”
Givens finished with an eighth-place time of 1:19:13.
“This whole experience was surreal in a sense. I worked very hard to get here and earn my spot. The race itself was almost the icing on the cake for me after all the hard work that I put in. I enjoyed the moment today and every second of what I was doing.”
The top-two ranked women in the world in the PT4 division had an epic battle to the finish. In the end it was American Grace Norman pulling away for the historic gold medal with a time of 1:10:39. Lauren Steadman, of Great Britain, was second at 1:11:43. Gwladys Lemoussu, of France, locked up the bronze medal with a time of 1:14:31.
Ottawa’s Christine Robbins and her guide Sasha Boulton had been making steady progress in preparation for their Paralympic debut. The hard work paid off with one of the strongest performances of their career.
Robbins, 38, and Boulton, 22, battled through the extreme heat while stringing together solid efforts in each of the three disciplines. The Canadians placed 10th at 1:22:59.
“I feel like that was the best race that I have ever done,” said Robbins. “I died a bit at the end, but I feel like everything went great for us all day. We could have likely pushed a little harder, but we were trying to be a little bit cautious with the heat as well.”
Australia’s Katie Kelly and her guide, Michellie Jones, won the PT5 division with a time of 1:12:18. Great Britain grabbed the next two spots on the podium.
Alison Patrick and Hazel Smith were second at 1:13:20, while Melissa Reid and Nicole Walters won a sprint finish for the bronze medal with a time of 1:14:07.