CHICAGO—Canada’s Stefan Daniel can now forever call himself World Paratriathlon Champion!
The teenage paratriathlete capped off a dream season by taking down his top rival – Germany’s Martin Schultz – for the first time in his career while swimming, biking and running to a golden time of 59 minutes, 27 seconds (59:27) at the World Triathlon Grand Final in Chicagoon Friday.
“That was one of the hardest races I’ve ever done,” said Daniel after pumping his fist in celebration down the finishing chute. “It was a big battle today. Martin (Schulz) and I were having a good battle the whole way. I am so happy to have come out on top. I’ve wanted this ever since I was a kid so I am pretty happy right now.”
Born with bilateral radial club hands with is right arm significantly more affected. Daniel began triathlon three years ago. He won a bronze and silver medal in his first two trips to the premiere international paratriathlon dance. The only thing in Daniel’s way from completing his medal collection at the World Championships was Germany’s Schulz.
The German had a 28 second lead on the Canuck after the 750-metre swim in Lake Michigan. After a malfunction on the second lap of the bike, Daniel took over the lead. Schulz continued to battle back, and the two athletes entered transition two after the 20-kilometre bike shoulder-to-shoulder. Schutlz bolted onto the five-kilometre run course first, but after the opening of three laps it was the teenager from Canada leading the way in the deepest paratriathlon field. Daniel never looked back while running past Chicago’s famous landmarks, and finally was able to celebrate after rounding Buckingham Fountain for the final time with 100-metres to go.
“This is the icing on the cake for me. I knew I had a good year, but I really wanted to win. I didn’t have any pressure on me going into today,” added Daniel, who had to overcome some pre-race adversity after he realized his bike tire was flat when he checked it into the transition area. Thanks to the quick work by Triathlon Canada’s bike doctor, Dave Coleman, Daniel was able to remain calm, focused and determined to win the country its first World Paratriathlon Championship gold medal.
“I have no idea how the tire was flat. There was no puncture in it. It all worked out. I just wanted to give it everything I could and I am really happy to have the gold.”
Schulz was forced to settle for the silver medal at 59:57. Yannick Bourseaux, of France, clocked-in at 1:00:37 for the bronze.
The victory officially secures Daniel a spot on the start line when triathlon makes its debut at the Paralympic Summer Games next year in Rio.
“The goal was to win today to have Rio qualifications out of the way. Now I can look forward to that and focus on junior racing next year, and not have to worry about Rio,” added Daniel.
Winning World Championships is the cherry on top of a dream season for the soft-spoken Canuck who is balancing life as a high-performance athlete with first year studies at the University of Calgary.
Not only did the emerging star in Canada’s para-sport circles rack up three golds and one silver while competing in the deepest classification in the four World Para-triathlon races this year in addition to his victory Friday, but he also defied all odds to capture the junior men’s National Championship crown in Magog, Que. despite a significant disadvantage to the field – especially in the water.
“I didn’t at all expect to win junior elite nationals, but that was a highlight for me and has helped me with para racing,” said Daniel. “I’ve improved a lot this year. I’ve done lots of great work in the pool with my swimming. I’ve worked hard on the bike and my run has also progressed. One year ago I didn’t really see myself being here. I’m so happy with the progression this year.”
Two other Canadian suited up for the paratriathlon races under ideal conditions early Friday morning.
Winnipeg’s Chantal Givens returned to elite racing after being sidelined with a fracture to her shoulder blade. Givens posted a time of1:15:06 to finish seventh in the women’s PT4 division. Official results for Ottawa’s Christine Robbins and Sasha Boulton were eighth in the women’s PT5 divison for visually impaired athletes.