As the going got really tough in the Women’s PTVI Para-triathlon at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo on Saturday morning, guide Briarna Silk posed a question to Katie Kelly.
“Can you give me more?” Silk asked the Rio gold medalist.
“I was saying ‘Yes’,” Kelly said after the race, “but that was what I had.”
It was enough for sixth, in the end. Not what Kelly had planned when she contacted Dan Atkins a couple of weeks after Rio and asked him to coach her to Tokyo. There had been ups and downs over those five years – moving states, changing guides, joining a new program – but there were never excuses.
“We were chasing the Canadians and Great Britain, trying to get a podium spot,” Kelly said.
“It didn’t happen, but I’m so proud of our effort.”
Asked about racing in Tokyo’s extreme heat and humidity, she said: “We’re both from Queensland. We love the humidity, we train in a heated pool and in a heat chamber, so the heat was to our advantage.
“It did catch up with me. But it was just a strong race. The girls out there are super strong, they’re coming up younger in the ranks and they were able to handle the heat today.”
Coach Atkins was philosophical in the aftermath. Kelly and Silk had swum well, he said, pulling back about 30 seconds after starting 3m34s behind according to the handicap system. The bike leg had been “brutal”, Silk said, but Atkins had hoped a bit more time could have been pegged back.
“Then, on the run,” Atkins said, “Katie just mentioned to me that she just couldn’t bring the mongrel today.
“For me, as a coach, right now proud of the fact that she got through it, she’s finished, she’s emotional – and it’s actually quite emotional for me to think about.
“She rang me a week or two after Rio and it was a shock and an honour when she asked if I would help her. She said she wanted to go to Tokyo.
“It’s a bit sad for me to think that this could be the end for us. It’s going to leave a big hole but it’s something I’ll always remember and cherish and I’m sure Katie will as well.”
Whatever the future holds for Kelly, she will forever be Australia’s first triathlon gold medallist at the Paralympic Games.
“She’ll go down in history for that,” Atkins said. “She should be incredibly proud she’s got a first and a sixth at the Paralympics.”
Kelly’s proud also of the way she used her platform after winning in Rio. Rather than indulge herself, she wondered how she could help others. Not long after that great day on Copacabana Beach, she set up Sport Access Foundation, which raises money to provide grants to help people with a disability access sport.
“Three of our recipients are here at the Paralympics – Col Pearse (swimming), Jamieson Leeson (boccia) and Keira Stephens (swimming),” Kelly said.
“I’m an older athlete and I want to see younger kids get a chance, get access to equipment and coaching, from age five or six, like able-bodied kids – and it’s happening. Australia’s embracing it, it’s fantastic.”
In the Men’s PTVI, Games debutant Jonathan Goerlach and guide David Mainwaring came in eighth after giving everything they had.
“I waited 10 years to get to this moment,” Goerlach said.
“It would have been good to get a better result today, but we busted our guts and, at the end of the day, I’m still a Paralympian and I’m pretty stoked with that.”
Like Kelly, Goerlach made no excuses.
“For us in NSW, we’ve been in lockdown for two months, as everyone at home knows, and we’ve had a green tent set up in the garage trying to do our training, we’ve just been doing what we can, preparing as best we can,” he said.
“Whatever happened today, happened. I don’t think we could have gone any harder than we did.”
Watch the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games live and free on Seven and 7plus from August 24 – September 5.
Day two of the Para-triathlon starts at 6.30am local (7.30am AEST) when Australia’s Nic Beveridge sets off in the Men’s PTWC wheelchair class and Lauren Parker and Emily Tapp start in the Women’s PTWC. David Bryant starts his race in the PTS5 at 8.30am (9.30am AEST).