Rio de Janeiro, Brazil—Canada’s Stefan Daniel put a silver lining around triathlon’s debut at the Paralympics after running to second spot on the podium in the PT4 classification at the famed Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The 19-year-old Calgarian, who was the youngest athlete in the field, clocked a silver medal time of 1:03:05.
“Today was a historic moment for our sport. I have had to work very hard over the last years to get here. It is a great feeling to stand on the podium, and I’m going to cherish this silver medal forever,” said Daniel.
“Today was the biggest race I’ve ever done. I didn’t feel any pre-race jitters out of the ordinary. I kept telling myself I’ve done this a million times, and ultimately, it was the same guys I’m always around.”
One of those guys happened to be his top rival – Germany’s Martin Schultz.
A race that was being touted early in the week as a heavyweight bout between the teenage Canuck and the 26-year-old German lived up to its billing. The duo, which has split the last three World Championship titles, put on a para-triathlon clinic for the thousands of spectators that lined the streets and beaches of Copacabana.
When the dust finally settled, it was Schultz finishing 28 seconds ahead of Daniel to take the first-ever Paralympic gold medal in the sport with a time of 1:02:37.
“I wish my swim and bike was a little better today. I just didn’t have the bike legs so that is a bit disappointing. Martin was the better athlete today,” added Daniel, who battled the choppy, high surf in the Atlantic Ocean with the top 11 para-triathletes in the world.
With George Peasgood, of Great Britain, coming out of the 750-metre wetsuit swim in first spot, Schultz was fourth and Daniel 22 seconds behind his rival in fifth. The race was decided on the technical 20-kilometre bike course where Schultz hammered the pace.
Once taking the lead at the midway point, the German opened a big gap on the field before second transition. He was one minute, 56 seconds ahead of Daniel, who pedaled his way into third spot on the third lap of the bike, but dropped back into fourth before putting his running shoes on.
“I just didn’t have the bike legs today, but it is no excuse. I wasn’t in a podium position off the bike so I had to run as hard as I could,” added Daniel.
Running shoes on, the University of Calgary student darted out of second transition and showed the world he has the heart of a lion, putting down the fastest run of the day while chasing the podium over the five-kilometre test.
After bolting into medal position, Daniel picked off Spain’s Jairo Ruiz Lopez midway through the second and final lap of the run to get within sight of Schultz. The feisty Canuck was able to make up 75 seconds on the leader, but eventually reached the end of the road in his quest for gold.
“I gave everything I could so I am very proud to get the silver,” said Daniel. “I was trying to catch him (Schultz). I knew I had the run legs, but I just ran out of real estate today.”
Spain’s Jairo Ruiz Lopez held on for the bronze with a time of 1:03:14.
It has been a storybook run for Daniel who was born with bilateral radial club hands, with his right arm significantly more affected.
Born into an athletic family who share a passion for swimming, biking and running, Daniel began triathlon just four years ago. He first introduced himself to the triathlon world by winning a bronze (2013) and silver medal (2014) in his first two trips to the World Championships.
Daniel was nearly unstoppable in 2015. He won his first title at the premiere international para-triathlon dance – outside the Paralympics – one year ago in Chicago, and racked up three golds and one silver during the summer while competing in the deepest classification in the world Para-triathlon circles. To top off his dream season last year, he also defied all odds to capture the junior men’s able-bodied National Championship crown in Magog, Que.
But each step of this rising stars epic journey has had one soldier in his path to the podium – Germany’s Schultz.
“He is a great athlete. We both are going to be around for a long time so I’m sure we’ll have a lot more battles in the future. Unfortunately he was the better athlete today so I have to give him credit,” said Daniel. “But this is just the beginning. I know our sport is going to grow each year and so am I. I’m already looking forward to Tokyo.”
Canada’s Chantal Givens (Winnipeg), along with Christine Robbins and her guide Sasha Boulton – both of Ottawa – will head to the start pontoon on Sunday for the women’s Paralympic triathlon races at 10 a.m. BRT.