Australia’s highly vaunted para-triathlon team will come together in Pontevedra, Spain for this week’s Triathlon Grand Final with a history of World Championship success – and a team building towards Paris 2024.
Following in the wake of first trailblazing world champions like Bill Chaffey and Sally Pilbeam, to first Paralympic Games golden girl Katie Kelly and her guide Olympic silver medallist and world champion Michellie Jones.
To world champions, two-time winner Emily Tapp and the now seemingly unstoppable Lauren Parker, Australians have always been at the forefront of para-triathlon – punching above their weight.
Pontevedra and the eighth edition of the World Triathlon Grand Final in Para classes, sees a strong mix of 12 Australians – including returning Pilbeam, the 2014 and 2015 PTS3 world champion who, at 45, re-joins the team’s three-time and defending world champion in Parker and exciting South Australian star Anu Francis.
Headlining a highly talented and motivated group of triathletes from the ages of 21 to 47 – athletes, their coaches, mentors, handlers, and support staff.
A team that has seen many of them already get a taste of next year’s Paralympics in Paris at the recent Test Event, keen to earn all-important qualification points while challenging for a World Championship podium.
Francis, who bounded and pedalled around the streets of Paris to a Test Event and Para Cup victory in a race modified to a duathlon with the River Seine deemed unsuitable for swimming.
The talented South Australian has taken a trip back down memory lane, preparing by herself in London and will arrive in Pontevedra brimming with confidence.
A newcomer to the sport, Francis has been in Europe for two-and-a-half months in the lead up to World Championships, training in England and racing at WTPS Swansea and the Paris Paralympic Test Event.
“I’ve predominantly been training by myself in England where I’ve been staying with my aunt in Bournemouth (a coastal resort town about 90 miles southwest of London) – a place when I spent my summers with my grandparents as a child,” said Francis.
“This is the longest I’ve been away from home, and it was a big decision to bite the bullet and stay in Europe, but it’s really paid off and I’m moving the best I ever have.
“Winning the Paralympic Test Event last month was an incredible experience.
“Being able to really take charge of the race and lead from start to finish in the duathlon format was a great confidence booster and allowed me to really process the course ahead of next year.
“I’m excited for Pontevedra to race with the full PTS2 field and see where I stack up in the triathlon format.
“Having only learnt to swim less than three-years-ago, less than a year after teaching myself to cycle during lockdown.
“I’m still so new to the sport and have so much to learn and improve upon. I’m hoping for a fair and honest race for everyone on Saturday so we can showcase what the incredible show the PTS2 women will put on come Paris 2024!”
There will also be Grand Final rookies in Thomas Goodman and Maggie Sandles – Goodman, an experienced para sportsman, returning to the sport at 33 and emerging alongside long-serving 47-year-old Glenn Jarvis in the PTS2 category.
And PTVI vision impaired Sandles, 21, and her experienced guide Felicity Cradick who will represent the future of the sport as she joins a team that is full of experience.
Tokyo 2020 track and field Paralympian Sam Harding, and his experienced guide David Mainwaring, are key members of the group – Harding graduating from an athletics career to now become a fully-fledged para-triathlete.
Parker has chalked up the most impressive of records, unbeaten in her last 13 starts since her heart-stopping silver at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
The girl from Newcastle is chasing a rare dream of Paralympic glory in not one but two sports – para-triathlon and para-cycling – has taken a breath from her hectic racing, training, and travel schedule as she prepares for another slice of history and a fourth straight World Triathlon Grand Final title after wins in Lausanne in 2019 and Abu Dhabi in 2021 and 2022.
She has been in Banyoles, Spain under coach Dan Atkins and his AusTriathlon Gold Coast Performance group.
“Lauren’s life has been jam-packed but she has been loving being in Banyoles with Dan and the group where she is thriving in the warmer climate,” says AusTriathlon’s Paralympic Performance Manager Kyle Burns.
“Lauren sets the highest of standards and we’d expect nothing less of her,” says Burns.
“Lauren is driven, and she holds her number one ranking dear to her heart. She is an athlete who focuses on that every year.
“She won’t leave a stone unturned and wants to go into Paris next year as the world number one and she knows she’s going to have to fight to keep it.”
Burns talks glowingly but also keeps a lid on the chances of this Australian team – that will come together in Pontevedra from all parts of the world.
A team that has had its challenges in the world of para-triathlon, from injuries, falls and operations to pick themselves up as the sport climbs to greater heights – from full time athletes to those juggling jobs and families as they chase their sporting dreams.
Two-time PTWC Paralympian from Rio and Tokyo, Nic Beveridge, will jet in from his base in Mackay, in Far North Queesland while PTS4 pair Liam Twomey and Jeremy Peacock and PTS5 duo Jack Howell and Tokyo Paralympic David Bryant have been preparing in Girona in Spain under coach Danielle Stefano.
The group swelled last week by Pilbeam’s arrival from Perth, where she has left her young family and her job as a schoolteacher to continue her remarkable comeback in search of a place in the Paris team in the PTS4 category.
Albury’s Justin Godfrey, a World’s bronze medallist in Chicago in 2015 and silver in Rotterdam in 2017, at 39 has been lured back from injury and operations to chase his Paralympic dream in the PTS3 category – spending the winter preparing in Australia, working full time and training in between.
“Right across the board,” says Burns, “now is the time where all the top ones start to shine, and they propel themselves forward.
“It’s the start of the countdown (to Paris) and what we have seen in the last 12 months is not necessarily what’s going to unfold over the next 12 months, it’s going to be game on.”
You can catch all the action from the 2023 World Triathon Para Championships on TriathlonLive!