Claire Cashmore is looking forward to tackling American star Grace Norman again in the Paralympics Test Event in Paris on Saturday – and is hoping it’s in a triathlon rather than duathlon!
Cashmore was an eight-time Paralympic medallist in swimming before she transitioned to paratriathlon, where she’s had instant success in the PTS5 category, winning several World Triathlon Para Series events and two World Championships before earning a ninth Paralympic medal in Tokyo.
At those Paralympics, Norman was second and Cashmore third behind her Team GB colleague Lauren Steadman, but since then it has been Norman who has been in near-unstoppable form.
She has a perfect record this season and last time out at the World Triathlon Para Series in Swansea came out a clear-cut winner in what became an aquathlon thanks to the strong winds. Norman stopped the clock in 30:35, with Cashmore second in 31:50, just ahead of Steadman and with large gaps back to the rest.
Given Norman’s run form this year, that format change and absence of the bike was always going to make it a tough task for the Brits, with all three typically so well matched in the swim.
‘A year of adaptability’
And looking back on the season and ahead to Paris, Cashmore told TRI247: “This will be my second race this year racing Grace, so it’ll be really good to see where she’s at in a triathlon rather than an aquathlon.
“My season started with a duathlon at the European Championships, which obviously wasn’t the race I wanted going in. But it was a nice surprise to win the gold there and blow away the cobwebs a little bit.
“And then I moved on to the World Triathlon Para Cup A Coruna which was actually a triathlon but unfortunately neither Grace nor Lauren were racing!
“So it’s definitely been a year of adaptability but the Covid times really taught me that you’ve got to do that and not let things outside of your control stress you out. It’s good to challenge yourself.”
The build-up to the Paris Test Event has seen concerns over the water quality but as Cashmore pointed out: “I think you’ve got to have that trust and that faith in the organisers, that they’re doing everything possible to make it a triathlon. And then it’s hopefully about getting in that water and do what you’re there to do, and that’s to perform.
“I can’t worry about the rest of that stuff because otherwise you’re just wasting so much energy.”
Proud of progress
And Cashmore also saw things from the other side of the fence in Swansea, for as well as competing she’s also a board member for the event which will return for a third year in 2024. It’s something she’s thoroughly enjoyed, saying: “I think it has been really eye opening, being part of the board and actually seeing the process of what goes on behind the scenes and the amount of work that’s put into it.
“And I think you kind of stand there and you feel quite proud of what British Triathlon have done and all the changes they’re trying to make and how they’re trying to get a bit more para parity. Whether that’s just little things like having a champagne moment, which we never get, through to having a bit of prize money.
We’re just really trying to step up the game of paratriathlon and hopefully other countries will follow suit.
“So, yeah, I felt really disappointed when it wasn’t a triathlon, just because I knew how much work had been put in behind the scenes by Swansea Council, by all the organisers, and I just felt gutted for them. And then I was like, no, I need to remember I’m here to race, not here to feel sorry for anybody. But they still managed to put on a fantastic event and show how great paratriathlon is in this country.”
Big year coming up
But back to the present and Paris and she’s excited for the challenge ahead, telling us: “I think this week’s course will be one that we haven’t really experienced before. Hopefully I can try and take advantage of the river swim and then obviously the bike is completely different, being quite technical and on cobbles for parts of it and then a run on cobbles. So it’s going to be really interesting.
“It will also be exciting to see what it’s all about and being able to ride along a bit of the Champs-Élysées and in front of the Eiffel Tower. You’ve just got to not get distracted by the incredible points of interest but it should be stunning.”
Looking past Norman, who else does Cashmore think could be in the mix? “Unfortunately Lauren’s not there – it’s quite a small field because it’s a Test Event. But there’s Canada’s Kamylle Frenette, the French girl Gwladys Lemoussu and others that are obviously hoping to do something special, so it’ll be really exciting to see where everyone’s at.”
And a year out from the Paralympics, does Cashmore feel she’s where she wants to be? “Honestly, it just feels like Tokyo was only yesterday and I can’t believe we’re already a year away – it’s quite scary, but the two years have just absolutely flown by.
“I feel like I’ve still got a lot of unfinished business and a lot of stuff that I need to go back and work on next year. I didn’t have necessarily the best winter thanks to a few niggles, so I’m looking forward to having a better winter next year and putting myself in a better position leading into Paralympics.”