As Annouck Curzillat and her guide Celine Bousrez came onto the final stretch there appeared to be no danger. With 500m remaining of the women’s triathlon for visually impaired athletes the French pair were approaching a bronze medal calmly, running within themselves. Then, suddenly, around the corner and into the Odaiba Marine Park burst Alison Peasgood and Nikki Bartlett.
The British pair were gunning it, running at full throttle, pushing to the last for a medal. The gap was 80m, 60, 40, the noisy cohort of national associations gathered at trackside had dashed to the barriers, straining to see the action. Then, with the finish line in touching distance, the French found just that little bit extra and Peasgood found she had given it all. She crossed the line in fourth place and collapsed immediately onto the floor, volunteers dashing over to douse her in water.
As the triathlon returned to the scenic surrounds of Odaiba and the backdrop of the Rainbow Bridge, so those lucky enough to be in attendance witnessed more outstanding endeavour in this most challenging of events. Despite great hopes there were no medals for Great Britain in the four events on Saturday, but there was excitement and cruel luck. For Peasgood, there was also personal satisfaction after first fighting through illness to make it to Tokyo then defying injury that just three weeks ago had seen her on crutches.
“I was very ill [with a liver virus] in 2019 and to get back, then into some form in 2020 I was excited to race. But then competition got cancelled [due to the pandemic],” said a still sopping-wet Peasgood after she had recovered from her efforts. “I actually had a nasty bike crash at the end of 2020 and it felt like setback after setback. Then we were finally back on track [when] three weeks ago I hurt my back. I was on crutches at the holding camp and I didn’t think this was possible. Even up until last week we still thought we might be flying back. So to be here and actually be competitive … yeah, it’s pretty special.”
It is generally acknowledged that parasport athletes are tough, hardened by the challenges laid down by their disability. But they can also be more at risk from debilitating illness and, like all athletes, could be laid low by physical injury at any moment. For Peasgood to deal with each of these in recent months, but still find the ability to “keep digging to the line” as Bartlett put it, is a sparkling example of what makes the Paralympics such a powerful sporting event.
Of all the challenges para-athletes must encounter, surely none are as frustrating as ‘mechanical failure’. That was the lot of Dave Ellis, however, Britain’s golden hope in the men’s PTVI event. He slipped out of the race with guide Luke Pollard after two laps of the cycling leg when the chain on his tandem bike came off. The current world champion began the race 3:21 behind, a handicap set by judges according to the severity of visual impairment, but ate up a whole 53 seconds on the American leaders during the swim. A further 11 seconds shaved off during the first lap of the cycling heightened the sense of British opportunity, only for it to come crashing down thanks to a failed widget.
The US duo of Brad Snyder and Greg Billington went on to win the men’s PTVI in a time of 1:01:16, 55 seconds clear of the Spanish who won silver. Spain claimed gold in the women’s race, meanwhile, with Susana Rodriguez competing alongside guide Sara Loehr.
Earlier in the PTS4 category for athletes with moderate impairments, including single leg amputees, there was a US one-two in the women’s race for Allysa Seely and Hailey Danz while Frenchman Alex Hanquinquant won gold in the men’s. One of the most powerful moments of the day, meanwhile, came when Rakel Mateo Uriarte finished seventh in the women’s PTS4 race, the 46-year-old completing the 5km run on crutches.