Seven Australian triathletes will create history in Rio this weekend when paratriathlon makes its ground breaking Paralympic debut on Rio’s Copacabana Beach.
The Australians will be led by the Gold Coast’s 40-year-old five-time ITU world champion Bill Chaffey, who summed up the journey for the team when he said: “When it was announced in 2012 that we were going to be part of the Paralympics it became that cherry in front that I had to reach out and grab….it has been a long ride…but a ride worthwhile.
“I'm chomping at the bit to do this race on Saturday. I'm ready to go right now. I have plenty of energy and motivation…I'm just busting to get out and race.”
Chaffey, who became an incomplete paraplegic when hit by a truck while training in 2005, will be joined by fellow PT1 wheelchair triathlete, Nic Beveridge (QLD); PT2 below knee amputee Brant Garvey (WA); PT5 vision impaired Katie Kelly (ACT) and PT4 pair Kate Doughty (VIC) who was born without her right hand and 43-year-old Claire McLean (WA), who suffered nerve damage to her left arm in a motorbike accident when she was 19.
McLean is the only paratriathlete who has been to a previous Games, winning silver in cycling in Athens in 2004.
Making up Australia’s “Magnificent Seven” will be one of the biggest names in triathlon, Sydney Olympic 2000 silver medallist, former ITU and Hawaiian Ironman world champion Michellie Jones – who will act as the Guide for Katie Kelly in the vision impaired category.
It is fitting for Jones, an ITU Hall of Famer, to again play her part in another red-letter day in the sport she has been addicted to for most of her life and that has seen her conquer everything there is to conquer.
To be part of Sydney when triathlon made its Olympic debut on Sydney Harbour in 2000 and now to be in Rio 16 years later for the paratriathlon debut.
“They all have amazing stories and have overcome many obstacles and I’m truly blessed to be a part of the journey,” said Jones, who celebrated her 47th birthday with her teammates inside the Village yesterday.
"It has been an awesome journey so far with Katie and Rio is just icing on the cake.
"I am excited to help her achieve her Olympic aspirations and my goal on race day is to ensure Katie has the best day possible on Sunday."
Australia’s paratriathlon program has flourished under the direction of Program Manager Kathryn Periac and Team Coach Corey Bacon who have both played key roles in ensuring the green and gold are at the forefront of the sport, including pairing Kelly and Jones.
Periac, as passionate as any program manager in any sport, has been in the trenches with and for her athletes and administrators of all levels to ensure her athletes will be ready to shine on race day.
That shone through at last year’s ITU World Championships in Chicago when the Aussies were certainly the flavour of the month, winning three gold, two silver and two bronze medals.
“To have the competitive team of six athletes and to be contending for medals is a credit to all concerned – I couldn’t be prouder or happier with this group,” Periac said.
“And we are blessed to have someone like Michellie Jones who ticks every box there is to tick – she brings so much to our table it’s not funny.
“It has been an amazing journey for the athletes with only Claire, Nic, Bill and Brant at the 2013 World Championships with Katie and Kate coming in after 2014.”
The Australians have revelled in the atmosphere which has taken them into the Athletes Village this week and to the official Flag Raising Ceremony as they joined athletes from all over Australia and mixed with 4,500 athletes from around the world in what will be a major highlight of all their careers.
They have chosen to by-pass the Opening Ceremony as they prepare to race on Saturday (men) and Sunday (women) mornings (from 10am Rio time/from 11pm AEST on Saturday and Sunday evenings) and make the move from the Athletes Village an hour towards the coast at Ipanema and the Australian Team headquarters sub-site less than a kilometre from the Copacabana race venue.
To feel part of the Opening Ceremony occasion, the team will all dress in their formal gear and attend an official team dinner in what will be a special occasion for all.
Only Chaffey, who won the Test Event in Rio last year, has been over the course, so for the others, to get to the race course will be paramount.
“It will be important to go through all the familiarisations before hand and to get themselves ready to go,” said Periac.
Saturday, September 10
PT2 (Brant Garvey): 10.03am (Rio Time)/11.03pm (AEST)
PT1 (Bill Chaffey, Nic Beveridge); 11.20am (Rio Time)/12.20am (AEST)
Sunday, September 11:
PT4 (Kate Doughty, Claire McLean): 10am (Rio Time)/11pm (AEST)
PT5 (Katie Kelly/Michelle Jones): 11.20am (Rio Time)/12.20am (AEST)