Stuart Jones had every reason to be frustrated. After suffering a slipped chain on the final straight and missing a medal in Tuesday’s T1-2 time-trial, two days later the 52-year-old found himself in ninth and way off the pace in desperately wet conditions as he neared the finish line.
Jones had said on Tuesday he was “not happy”; he had not come to Tokyo to miss out on the podium. No doubt that reality was sinking in as he trudged his trike up the final hill of Thursday’s T1-2 road race.
But something else appeared to dawn on him, también. sí, Jones had come to win a medal. But there was more to the Paralympics than medals, he clearly thought.
Because as Jones came up the straight, he slowed down as he spotted another rider, South Africa’s Toni Mould. Mould, who lives with cerebral palsy, was a lap behind the rest of the field and doing it tough.
Jones turned to Mould and, according to the TV coverage at least, said words to the effect of, “Keep going. You’re going great guns. You have only got a lap to go.”
Indisputable is that Jones was willing Mould on with a massive smile on his face. Mould, también, who no doubt was consumed by all sorts of pain and exhaustion by that point, particularly given the horrendous conditions, also found the energy to smile.
"Mirar, I wasn’t going to podium,” Jones told the Seven Network after the race. “That lady, Toni from South Africa, that is a true champion. That’s what the Paralympics are about.”
It is not clear what Jones knew of Mould’s story exactly, but according to the para-cycling pundit and 2016 Paralympian Hannah Dines, the South African was the most impaired athlete at the Fuji Speedway on Thursday.
Three-time Paralympic gold medallist Kurt Fearnley and the chef de mission of the Australian Paralympic Team, Kate McLoughlin, were among those to praise Jones’s gesture.
“That’s what we hope the green and gold does,” Fearnley said on Channel Seven. “It doesn’t just look after the green and gold. If you can, you go out there and you show the sportsmanship that we all feel proud of. It was a beautiful moment.”
Mould, whose condition was acquired due to complications at birth, was initially forced to launch a fundraiser so she could race in Tokyo, before she was included in a special funding program run by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee.
She said earlier this year that cycling had helped her “overcome depressive episodes and isolation, create new friendships, and given me a sense of community”.
It had also allowed her to fulfil a life long dream of travelling.
“The health benefits far outweigh any medals or trophies that I might ever win," ella dijo. “As someone with a disability, I have to keep my body as active as possible within my abilities and cycling has given me that opportunity.”
It would not be true to say that moments like the one shared between Jones and Mould are all the Paralympics is about.
The Games are also about supremely talented athletes competing to win, or record a personal best, or achieve the goals they’ve set for themselves. It’s sport, elite sport.
But one can’t help but laud the moments of sportsmanship and camaraderie on show.
That spirit has been there in the mutual applause between opposing teams at the end of a goalball or sitting volleyball match.
The same goes for the way rivals have revelled in their competitors’ successes. Consider, por ejemplo, earlier this week how France’s Alexandre Leauté, 20, who finished third in the road race, insisted on presenting Australia’s Darren Hicks with his long-coveted gold medal.
It was a moving moment, given Leauté had broken Hicks’ heart to win in the velodrome in the Games’ first week.
El martes, Australian wheelchair tennis star Dylan Alcott was also applauded for embracing his distraught teenage opponent Niels Vink, after the Dutchman found himself on the wrong side of a marathon three-setter.
Vink, who idolised Alcott growing up, buried his head in the Australian’s consoling arms.
“I said to him he’s gonna be out there winning gold medals for sure, maybe even tomorrow [miércoles, in the doubles gold medal match], because the way he plays is incredible,” Alcott said post match.
Alcott was right. Vink, and his partner, Sam Schroder, defeated Alcott and Heath Davidson the following day.
Like Alcott, Jones was not just focused on his own results on Thursday. He saw the bigger picture.
“If I could encourage [Toni Mould] up the hill and just make her struggle a little bit easier, hey, what’s a place, if I come sixth, seventh, eighth?” he told the Seven Network. “Because that’s what these Paralympics are about.”
Jones went on to finish eighth in the men’s T-1-2 road race, and Mould continued on, también, completing the 26.4km course. She also placed eighth.