Ryan Van Praet Previews the upcoming Paratriathlon Debut
Many of us can recall where we were in 2000 when a young kid from Kingston named Simon Whitfield, surged in the final kilometer to win the first ever gold medal in triathlon at the Sydney Olympic Games.
How many of us will be glued to our TV’s or computers in order to watch a similarly historic moment in the sport that we all love so much? In Rio de Janeiro later this summer, our sport will take a giant step forward once again as it seeks to showcase the true potential of human capability. Paratriathlon will make its debut in the Paralympic Games and thus will signal a very important moment in the world of physically challenged triathlon. The Paralympics showcase the best in the world of disabled sport, providing us a glimpse into a world of extraordinary determination, work ethic, possibility, and positivity. Inspiring is a word often tossed around and para-athletes hear this often. This can describe wonderment of how an athlete can participate and endure despite dealing with certain physical impairments. A key thing to remember however is that they are athletes first and foremost.
Many paratriathletes sat and watched Simon Whitfield run down chute past the Opera House, carrying the Canadian flag and thought “Maybe one day that could be me…”
It is a very exciting time as Rio will now provide a competitive stage for these very capable and elite athletes, while much of the world watches. With that in mind, I thought it would be fitting to give you a bit of a run down on Paratriathlon, what it is, and who to watch.
Back in 2012 the Paralympics decided to add the sport of Paratriathlon to its roster of sports, starting in the 2016 Rio Games. This allowed a period of 4 years to establish rules, protocol, classifications, and generally work out the bugs through testing and consultation. I won’t dive into the minutia of it all, but will say that Triathlon Canada jumped on board and did/has done/is doing a great job of trying to grow the sport of Paratriathlon within the country. Just as we have a National team of able bodied elite athletes, we too have a National Paratriathlon Team. Over the years the team has ebbed and flowed as various “disability classes” have been tweaked and adjusted leading up to Rio. Currently as it stands there are FIVE (5) categories listed within the ITU (International Triathlon Union) rules and they are as follows (in very basic terms):
PT1- wheelchair athletes
PT2, PT3, PT4- athlete assessed and graded based on factors such as limb
PT5- blind or visually impaired athletes
Official descriptions and Paratriathlon info can be found at www.triathloncanada.com or www.triathlon.org. Each category is also broken into Male/Female, so ultimately you have 10 categories.
The Paratriathlon race is contested over the sprint distance (750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run). The ITU and the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) do their best to make each race as spectator friendly and as exciting as you would find in any ITU race around the world. For this reason and potentially some other political ones, the IPC decided to take 3 of the 5 categories from each of the mens and women’s field; thus to ensure a deeply talented field competes closely and fairly, making the biggest impact to spectators. This meant that 2 categories would not be making their debut in Rio and would hopefully compete in Tokyo 2020.
I will not focus on the “why” only 3 of 5, as it is what it is. Hard choices had to be made and now we move forward and focus on the 3 categories from each gender that are going and how exciting it will be to watch them battle it out in Rio! Gold, Silver and Bronze will be handed out in each of the following:
Men: PT1, PT2, PT4
Women: PT2, PT4, PT5
As you may notice, categories are not the same for each gender. Field sizes, density of finishing times, etc., were all analyzed in order to provide the closest and most exciting racing possible. From personal observation and experience, the Paratriathlon in Rio will be just as epic as Sydney 2000.
Now that the stage is set, categories chosen, and Copacabana Beach ready for the athletes, it is important to note who our Canadian hopefuls are! At the time of this article, the official Paratriathlon team has not been named, however we have 3 very talented athletes (along with a talented guide) that are looking very promising leading up to Rio.
Chantel Gibbons (PT4)
From Winnipeg, Chantel has been a triathlete for many years and has a work ethic that rivals many top pros. She is very detail oriented and has a visible passion and thirst for improvement in the sport. She is making steady gains in fitness and has had some recent top results in her category. She is certainly one to watch!
Christine Robbins (with guide Sasha in PT5)
From Ottawa, Christine ranks high among the blind/visually impaired females in the world and will hopefully take her bubbly personality and athletic talent to Rio and have a wonderful showing!
Stefan Daniel (PT4)
Arguably one of Canada’s best Paralympic medal hopefuls of any sport, Stefan hailsfrom Calgary and is ranked #1 in his category. He is so incredibly fast at the ripe old age of 19, that he competes and wins within the able bodied ranks, in running races and triathlons. He is I believe to Paratriathlon, what Simon was to triathlon – a once in a lifetime talent. No pressure though, right?
Coaches Carolyn Murray and Michel Elibani- two very highly talented and respected coaches who are working with our elite athletes in preparation for the games. The coaches and staff of Triathlon Canada show great respect for and have the highest expectations of the Paratriathletes within it’s system.
Canada is truly honoured to have such talent at it’s elite levels, along with so many amazing veteran Paratriathletes; combined they are crucial in actively being role models for all current and potential Paratriathletes across the country. Not everyone wants/needs to compete at the highest level, but everyone should have the belief they CAN. The games in Rio, the current group of Paratriathletes across the country, and a welcoming environment such as the Multisport Canada Series, all add up to foster a life of inclusion and physical fitness for those who might otherwise be left on the sidelines.
From a personal perspective as a visually impaired athlete, I see Rio and the visibility around it, as a wonderful opportunity to kick-start the growth of Paratriathlon in Ontario and the country. We all find or have found something within the world of triathlon to spark our desire to push boundaries of what we conceive to be possible. A child or person with a disability is not often challenged with this task; too often just “being” is good enough in many social views. Having role models within the world of parasport and Paratriathlon specifically, will hopefully serve as a catalyst for even one young child to dream bigger, believe a bit stronger, expect more, and challenge themselves to be successful by “doing” and not just “being”. Sport has that power and I believe triathlon is a very powerful sport for building a person up – physically and mentally.
So go cheer on Canada this summer and moving forward let us help grow the sport of Paratriathlon, both on an elite level but most certainly and I argue importantly, on a grassroots level.