Four youngsters from Triathlon Canada’s National Development Team joined forces to capture the nation’s first Pan American Games medal in the mixed team relay, winning the silver in thrilling fashion on Monday morning in Lima, Peru.
Two British Columbia teens – Desirae Ridenour (Cowichan Bay) and Hannah Henry (Victoria) – along with two men from Quebec – Charles Paquet (Port Cartier) and Alexis Lepage (Gatineau) – swam, pedalled and ran their way into the history books as the first Canadians ever to climb onto the mixed realy podium at the Pan American Games triathlon after clocking a second-place time of 1:20:57.
“Words can’t even describe how happy I am,” said Ridenour, who along with Henry and Lepage are coached by Jono Hall at Triathlon Canada’s newly-opened National Performance Centre in Victoria.
“In that opening leg, I just wanted to stick with the front of the pack. I didn’t have the best swim, but I made it up on the run to transition and then on the bike. I gave it everything I had on the run. I can’t even describe how happy I am.”
Ridenour set the tone for the young Canucks, taking the opening leg of the four-person mini-triathlon that sees each athlete complete an all-out 300-metre swim, 6.6-kilometre bike ride and 1.5-kilometre run. Athletes tag off to their teammates at the completion of each stage.
After completing her day in the office by trailing only Brazil, Ridenour tagged off to Charles Paquet. The 22-year-old, who has had a string of medals on Continental Cup races around the world this summer in addition to a solid, sixth-place outing in the individual race on Saturday, put down a monster performance in his leg where he closed the gap on the Brazilian team in the water, hammered the pedals on the bike and took off on the run before handing off to Hannah Henry in top spot.
“That was so good today. I just wanted to reel the person in on the swim and ride with him. I wanted to put as much time on the run as I could,” said Paquet, who is coached by Pierre Yves Gigou. “It feels so good to come back with silver. This event is so fun. It is so fast and you never know what is going to happen. The whole team did great today.”
In addition to facing the grueling course that featured a two-foot open-water surf, a mammoth climb on the bike and an all-out sprint on the run, Hannah Henry was lined up against Brazil’s ace, Vittoria Lopes, who won the silver medal in the individual women’s race.
“Des and Charles did a great job of setting me up. I went into the swim and knew I had to go as hard as I could. I stayed on Lopes’ feet. I couldn’t make it with her on the bike and I got caught with the United States and Ecuador so I went as hard as I could with them and held on as best as I could in the run,” said Henry.
The developing athlete did her job to set up the veteran of the Canadian squad, Alexis Lepage, in the anchor leg. With Brazil and the United States opening a gap up front, the 25-year-old Canadian quickly brought the Canadians back into medal contention. climbing back over the Mexican team into third spot on the swim.
“I knew I had some work to do on the swim and bike if we wanted to get a medal,” said Lepage. “I knew I needed to go hard. I worked with the Mexican athlete on the bike to catch the United States and after that I decided to stop working and save my legs. I came into T2 in front and just kept the gap going on the run. It was a great day for our entire team.”
Brazil won the gold medal with a time of 1:20:34. The Mexican team won the race for the bronze at 1:20:57.
Fresh legs were the story of the day for Lepage and the Canadians.
In an effort to optimize the young athletes’ performance while focusing on delivering a podium peformance in the relay, Triathlon Canada’s high-performance team decided to keep Lepage, Ridenour and Henry off the start list for Saturday’s individual races. The strategy paid off.
“The Pan American Games are an important stepping stone for this young group of athletes in our plans for 2024,” said Eugene Liang, high-performance director, Triathlon Canada. “This team had specific goals they wanted to accomplish this week and each one of them executed. For these young athletes to come onto the Pan American Games stage, and not only face some of the top competitors in the Americas but to also succeed, is a testament to their drive and potential. I am so proud of the whole team this week.”
The action-packed triathlon mixed relay is not only debuting at the Pan American Games. The spectator-friendly event will also make its first appearance in the Olympic lineup at Tokyo 2020.
Lima 2019, which runs from July 26 to August 11, brings together approximately 6,700 athletes from 41 nations of the Americas and features 62 disciplines in 39 sports. It is the largest sporting event ever held in Peru, and third-largest international multi-sporting event in the world.