Canada’s paratriathlon squad capitalized on experience and youthful drive to bag the country a gold and bronze medal at the Paratriathlon World Championships in London on Friday.
Ottawa’s Jennifer Hopkins captured her third straight World Championship title in the women’s les autres category, while a 16-year-old Calgarian, Stefan Daniel, ran to the bronze in the men’s arm impairment classification in his debut at the premier international triathlon show.
One of the most well rounded paratriathletes on the globe, Hopkins faced stiff competition in her latest appearance at the international dance. Coming out of the frigid London Serpentine after the 750-metre swim well back of her top competitor from the host country, Hopkins hammered the pace on the 20-kilometre bike course as steady rain turned roads into skating rinks. Hopkins took the lead in her division in the first of two loops on the five-kilometre run, and never looked back en route to capturing her third World Championship crown.
“That was the hardest race I have done so far. The swim was difficult because it was so cold and I was five minutes behind out of the water which is very hard to make up in a sprint,” said Hopkins. “It was amazing. Paratriathlon is such a unique race. It is the only time you see everyone cheering their competitors on. I think that is because everyone is just in awe of each other conquering everything despite all odds.”
Eleni Papadopoulos, of Great Britain, finished second to Hopkins with a time of 1:24:06. American Beth Price posted a bronze-medal winning time of 1:45:04.
Hopkins, who is a full-time lawyer with the federal government’s legal department, has been nothing short of dominant in her three trips to the Worlds, but realizes the depth of competition is increasing as the sport strides closer to its Paralympic debut in 2016.
“Particularly this year it has come forward leaps and bounds, and you can see how serious the ITU (International Triathlon Union) is taking the sport,” added Hopkins. “We are seeing competitors coming in from athletics and swimming now so the competition is getting tighter. People are working harder, and are more motivated with the opportunity that is in front of them – the chance to compete in the Paralymnpics.”
One newcomer to the sport in Canada, Stefan Daniel, is definitely chasing the carrot dangling in front of him. The Calgary teenager, who racked up four medals at the recent Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que., added a bronze medal around his neck on Friday while competing in his first-ever Paratriathlon World Championships. Daniel clocked a third-place time of 1:07:42 in the men’s arm impairment division.
“I really had no expectations. I just wanted to see what I can do and I am absolutely thrilled to be on the podium,” said Daniel, who is a family friend of Calgary’s Ellen Pennock, who grabbed the silver medal on Thursday in the women’s under-23 world championship race. “That was the world’s best out there, and now I know what I’m up against. It is really going to motivate me because I know what I have to improve.”
Daniel shared the podium with Germany’s Martin Schulz, who clocked a golden time of 1:05:41, and Yannick Bourseaux, of France, who settled for the silver medal at 1:06:15.
Other notable Canadian performances included: Winnipeg’s Chantal Denholm finishing fourth (1:22:49) in the women’s arm impairment class; and Ryan Van Praet, of Chatham, Ont., and his guide, Syd Trefiak, placing sixth (1:11:38) in the men’s visually impaired category.
Triathlon Canada has become increasingly more active in growing its paratriathlon program since the sport was introduced three years ago to debut at the 2016 Paralympic Games. In an attempt to maintain pace with the international growth, and increased competition at the elite level, Triathlon Canada has staged centralized training camps in advance of the World Championships over the last two years, and has increased racing opportunities at all levels both domestically and abroad. The focus is to contribute to Canada’s Paralympic medal count in 2016 and beyond.
“The sport is growing at a rapid pace around the world, and the performance bar is constantly being raised. Naming our first World Championship team of athletes is another critical step forward in developing medal-winners for Canada in Rio,” said Shaunna Taylor. “Building a deep talent pool of athletes is critical to success in any sport so we look forward to introducing, and guiding, more athletes to our sport in an effort to build our domestic programs, with the ultimate goal of producing more Paralympic champions.”
Triathlon Canada is the governing body for triathlon in the country. Recognized as an Olympic medal sport since 2000, Triathlon Canada’s mandate is to promote, foster, organize and develop the sport of triathlon, and its related disciplines, in Canada. For more information on Triathlon Canada, please visit us at www.triathloncanada.com