There was an Australian gold rush at the ITU World Triathlon Championships in Chicago today with our paratriathletes winning three gold, two silver and two bronze medals.
The Australians, under head coach Corey Bacon, showed why they are quickly becoming a major international force with the team making its presence felt just 12 months out from the sport’s debut at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.
Bill Chaffey, Sally Pilbeam and Katie Kelly all won gold in a 30 minute gold medal spree and Australia managed to challenge the USA for overall supremacy tying with the host country for most gold (three) and most medals (seven).
Later in the day dual Olympian Emma Moffatt, Charlotte McShane and Ashleigh Gentle finished 12th, 13th and 14th to be the best of the Australians in the Elite Women’s Grand final while Natalie Van Coevorden was seventh in the Under 23s ITU World Championship.
Moffatt has finished the WTS season as Australia’s highest ranked female athlete, finishing 10th on the overall rankings, followed by Gentle on 12th.
But it was the 13-strong Australian Para team that was once again led by outstanding Gold Coast wheelchair athlete, Chaffey, with a record fifth world title, who were the stars of the day.
Chaffey admitted “lady luck” was on his side today after race leader, and favourite the Netherlands Jetze Plat suffered a flat tyre – the similar fate suffered twice by Chaffey before he won last month’s Rio Test Event
“On the second lap I saw Platt ride out of the wheel station behind me,” said Chaffey.
“Luck was on my side and I was now in first place. We swapped the lead for the remaining two laps and I rode into T2 with a good lead.
“The race chair is my strongest leg and again I treated it like a 5km time trial and on the third lap run I could see my lead building.
“For once in my life I managed to have an incident free race and crossed the line breaking the tape in first place.
“It's an unbelievable and an overwhelming feeling. I'm now a five-time world champion.
“ It does feel funny to say but it's something no one can take from me.”
The tough-as-teak Plat recovered to finish third with American Krige Schabort second.
The strong presence of green and gold also saw defending champion Sally Pilbeam from WA win back-to-back crowns and the ACT’s vision impaired athlete Katie Kelly win her first world title.
Chaffey (PT1) and Kelly (PT5) also qualified Australia two all-important quota places in their classifications for Rio– major steps forward in the sport’s pathway to the Paralympic Games.
But there was a nervous two-hour wait for Kelly and her guide, 2000 Olympic silver medallist Michellie Jones, following a protest in their class by second-placed Great Britain.
After a long, drawn-out hearing the ITU appeals committee dismissed the protest without even calling in the Australians.
Pilbeam, the Perth schoolteacher and mother of two, who lost her right arm to cancer successfully defended the title she won in Edmonton last year in the PT3 category and she had company on the podium.
It was a 1-2 quinella for Australia with Melbourne’s Kerryn Harvey, who lost her right arm after an accident, taking the silver in her world championship debut.
There was silver to another debutant, Queensland’s wheelchair athlete Emily Tapp in the PT1 class.
While Kate Doughty, the former international Para-equestrian star and right arm amputee showed that her decision to swap her horse for a bike was a good one.
She won bronze in the PT4 Class at her first world titles. Justin Godfrey also won bronze in the PT3 Class after crashing from his bike.
Kelly, who suffers from Ushers Syndrome, was pronounced legally blind six months ago and is also profoundly deaf.
“What a feeling, I can’t believe it, my first world champs, to finish is a great achievement but to come over the line first whoo whoo…,” Kelly said.
“Just to be a part of it all and being around all the athletes; there’s this amazing bond that’s between the athletes; Para-tri is such a wonderful sport and it’s such an honour to compete at the world championships.”
Jones, who was last night inducted into the ITU Hall of Fame alongside fellow legends Peter Robertson and Emma Snowsill, revealed Kelly wasn’t 100 percent with a niggling injury.
“We know we weren’t 100 percent with our fitness but we just wanted to get enough points to get to Rio and we’ve done that – she’s amazing – I’m just going along for the ride,” Jones said.
“Every time I race with her she gives that little bit extra and that’s exactly what she did today. You couldn’t ask for a better athlete… she’s the one that put the most effort into today.
“We have an awesome Australian coach in Corey Bacon. He is the one who prepared us for this race and he had the vision to put us together so this gold medal is for coach Corey.”