The triathlon achievements of Team GB at Tokyo 2020 came squarely back into focus late last Friday night, when the five gold medal winners were all handed New Year Honours.
Jess Learmonth, Jonny Brownlee, Georgia Taylor-Brown and Alex Yee were all rewarded with MBEs for services to triathlon following their epic Olympic Mixed Relay success.
Lauren Steadman meanwhile received the same accolade for a magnificent victory to claim Paralympic gold in the PTS5 category.
Just a few days prior to the awards being announced, British Triathlon Performance Director Mike Cavendish had reflected on the success in a debrief of the summer’s events in the Japanese capital.
Mixed Relay masterplan
He was overjoyed to see his team claim Mixed Relay gold, the culmination of years and planning.
“We came into it fourth in the world,” Cavendish commented. “All of us, coaches and athletes, knew that if we executed things the way we knew we could, we absolutely had a shout of winning.
“It was just so nice to see a plan that we’ve been working on for the past two or three years on a one-day, one-race scenario come off. Now we’re the team to beat and everyone’s looking at us, and there’s a lot that we got right and also some stuff that we can improve on.
“As a spectacle, it was just a fantastic event and I’ve had so many people tell me how they didn’t know much about triathlon and after the mixed relay they’re now hooked.
“We’re all about peaking once every four years, so we will take the next couple of years to experiment and try different combinations to give different athlete an opportunity so that we’re in an even better position in three years’ time.”
Cavendish on Paralympics
The Paralympics produced heartbreak as well as glory, and Cavendish spoke about the full range of emotions the Games provided.
“The racing speaks for itself. There’s some fantastic racing, some brilliant stories, some heart-breaking moments, and that’s the kind of thing for our sport to grow and for people to want to watch it.
“There weren’t as many medals [compared to Rio 2016] and it didn’t go quite as perfectly for us in the Paralympics as it did in the Olympics but that’s elite sport. There’s no way we could have expected to come out of both the Olympics and Paralympics having had five absolutely perfect days and unfortunately there was one day where almost everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong for us and pretty much all of that was outside anyone’s control.
“On the second day of the Paralympic races, we came home with medals for each athlete, and it was great to see Lauren achieve what we all knew she could. She had an excellent race and even though she still had small issues, like dropping her bike during transition, she still maintained her composure to display her dominance in the sport.
“George (Peasgood) was strong from start to finish and for him to come back from injury in Yokohama and to perform in that way was fantastic to see. Then for Claire (Cashmore) to make her debut, deal with the curve ball of a slightly confusing penalty mid-race and still perform in the way that she did shows her class and continued potential to go even further in Paris.”
Often in sport it is not the moment of triumph which stands out most for those involved. It is the special shared moments of camaraderie which live long in the memory. This is definitely the case for Cavendish, who spoke about the celebrations which followed.
“My highlight at both Games were the celebrations we had afterwards. It’ll be those emotions and those memories that will stick with me and those are my standouts.
“They were slightly different for each, for the Olympics, the restaurant we ate in every day was closed off to have a private few hours with the entire team, and it was just the culmination of five hard years. To share that moment with the team was just a really special place to be.
“The Paralympics was the same. We were fortunate to have an outside terrace overlooking the bay and the way the team came together and celebrated and supported one another for those who hadn’t performed so well was just a really special feeling and those are the things ultimately I personally will remember in ten, twenty, thirty years’ time.”