The debut of Paratriathlon provided thrills and spills today in Gold Coast, where the PTWC (Wheelchair) category – the only Paratriathlon category included – saw double success for England, through Joe Townsend and Jade Jones.
With the (at the time, PT1) women’s wheelchair category not have been included within the programme at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, this was their first opportunity to race on such a global scale. Today’s level of competition – male and female – will surely ensure that both are included in Tokyo (where four, of the current six Paratriathlon categories will be on the schedule). Pressure for an expansion of Paratriathlon at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games will surely – rightly – follow too.
Townsend and Jones claim the first ever Commonwealth Paratriathlon titles
Paratriathlon made its official debut in the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, and the set up couldn’t be better. With the sun shining brightly in the sky and thousands of spectators cheering in the grandstands, the English paratriathletes Joseph Townsend and Jade Jones showed their strength to claim both titles, Men’s and Women’s PTWC, in an spectacular last leg of the race.
Twelve paratriathletes took the start this morning in the Southport Broadwater Parklands in hot, blustery conditions, with Aussie Nic Beveridge taking the lead since the first moments, showing that he is one of the strongest swimmers in the field. Five-time world champion Bill Chaffey exited the water in fourth but had the best swim time of 10.55mins, considering the staggered start where PTWC 2 (least impaired wheelchair users), athletes started three minutes behind PTWC 1 athletes.
Behind them, Joe Townsend (ENG), the Royal Marine Commando who lost both legs in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2008 was still in sixth and last place going into the cycle leg. But this is where the 30-year-old turned the race on its head.
Cheered by thousands of spectators that packed the venue for the first ever paratriathlon race, Beveridge biked hard to keep more than a minute difference over Chaffey, who was working hard to chase him. So hard, in fact, that he ended up crashing against one of the barriers with two laps to go. He went back quickly into his chair, but with a broken handle that slowed him down a bit.
Townsend closed the gap lap after lap, knowing that he is one of the strongest men in the last segment of the race.
With the three of them clearly ahead the other competitors, it was clear that the medals were going to be decided among the two Aussies and the Englishman, and when it came to the second transition, Beveridge was still in the lead, but followed so close by Townsend that he lost the first position while changing from the handbike to the racing wheelchair for the final 5km run.
Townsend pushed hard enough to cross the line first, becoming the first ever paratriathlon Commonwealth medallist. “Swimming has always been a downside of mine, I’m one of the weakest swimmers in the field, it’s something I have worked greatly on over the winter and I knew if I could keep the gap I wouldn’t get passed from the back. But I found myself in the lead coming out of T2 (transition two) and I knew others in the field couldn’t push past me, it seems narrow minded but I know what my strengths are and it was a dream finish for me,” he said.
Behind him, Beveridge grabbed the silver medal, his first ever in a Major Games. “We did a race plan last night with my coach and it was executed just as I planned. I didn’t expect to place, it just worked out that way”, he explained.
A bit more dissapointed was Chaffey, who managed to get the bronze medal but was expecting more for this race. “I always want to go hard out. I saw that Joe had a great swim, better than he usually does, so I had to be more aggressive and I made a silly mistake and stuffed up. I think Joe would have beaten me anyway. You’re not going out there to win bronze, every athlete knows that, shit happens. I made the mistake, I stuffed up, it was a silly mistake”, he said.
Jones takes Gold
In the Women’s race, a phenomenal Lauren Parker was the first out of the water, almost two minutes ahead the rest of the female athletes, enough for her to do a smooth transition and head for the handbike section with a clear lead, that she managed to keep throughout. Her teammate, world champion Emily Tapp had to work hard to chase her but she kept riding strong behind her, trying to secure the top medal positions for the Aussies.
Because of a staggered start where PTWC 2 (least impaired wheelchair users), athletes started 3.58 minutes behind PTWC 1 athletes, Jones exited the water in third place, 3.37 behind Parker, but recorded the fastest swim. And it was in the cycling and running where Jones proved too good. She soon overtook Tapp on the cycle, before Parker tired on the run.
With the crowd cheering her home, Jones, the T54 1500m bronze medallist at Glasgow 2014, clinched the historic first Commonwealth Games women’s paratriathlon gold medal, with the two Aussies, Tapp and Parker, finishing behind her, to mirror the podium for the men’s event. “I was always chasing which is tough mentally, but to push through was great. I swam really well and I have been working on my swimming for the past six months. Anybody who knows me knows how much this means to me. I have only been doing Paratriathlon for 18 months, and although I have made a lot of improvements, I still have a long way to go,” said the new Paratriathlon gold medallist.
“I loved hearing the roar of the crowd when I was coming in at the end there, and to see all my family and friends supporting me”, explained silver medallist, Tapp.
“I’m so happy with my performance, so stoked with bronze today”, said Parker, who suffered an accident that left her in a wheelchair less than a year ago. “I like being chased and getting to pull away and get in front. I mean, I had a moment at the end there (Parker tipped over coming into the winning straight), but you just have to keep going. I have a lot to improve on, but overall I’m so stoked with my performance.”
1st – Joe Townsend (ENG) – 1:02:39
2nd – Nic Beveridge (AUS) – 1:03:38
3rd – Bill Chaffey (AUS) – 1:04:13
4th – Mark Conway (ENG) – 1:06:17
5th – Scott Crowley (AUS) – 1:08:34
6th – David Kerr (IRL) – 1:12:30
1st – Jade Jones (ENG) – 1:11:07
2nd – Emily Tapp (AUS) – 1:12:56
3rd – Lauren Parker (AUS) – 1:13:48
4th – Karen Darke (ENG) – 1:16:37
5th – Lizzie Tench (ENG) – 1:20:04
6th – Sara Tait (AUS) – 1:23:32
— British Triathlon (@BritTri) April 7, 2018