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On the second day of Paralympic triathlon racing, Americans added two more medals to their three from yesterday—but in very different fashion. In the wheelchair event, it took an all-out sprint for Kendall Grestch to win by less than a second at the line. That was followed by the PTS5 women, where defending gold medalist Grace Norman couldn’t quite make up a gap on the run and finished 41 seconds back for silver this time around.
“It’s been a long time coming for this Games,” said Norman, noting how happy she was with her race and her day and giving it her all in a tough and fast race. “I’m just overjoyed, it was an incredible day.”
The racing kicked off with the wheelchair events, as the PTWC men and then women took to the water. In the Paralympics, the wheelchair categories use a headstart system to differentiate between levels of impairment. That meant American Gretsch, the 2016 world champion, spent the whole race chasing defending world champion Lauren Parker—all the way to a sprint finish at the line that saw her edge out the Australian by less than a second.
Gretsch, a two-time Paralympic gold medalist in biathlon and cross-country skiing, was looking for her first paratri gold after picking up the sport with the help of the Dare2Tri club back in 2012.
“I never would have been at this level or competing at the Paralympics without them,” she said after, giving a shoutout to the watch party back in Chicago cheering her on.
It was also the first time the PTWC women’s race was being contested in the Paralympics—not every classification is contested in every Games and this is only the second Paralympics for triathlon. The two women both were ready to fight to line for the inaugural gold in their event. Parker, from Australia, had finished Kona on the podium in her age-group and was eyeing a competitive professional career when a bike crash in 2017 while training left her with no feeling from the waist down. She pivoted and quickly evolved into one of the most dominant athletes on the paratriathlon circuit.
Parker took the lead in Odaiba Bay, with the four-minute headstart system and a 11:47 750m swim. In the 20K handcycle, Gretsch closed a bit over two minutes and picked up some more time in the transitions—but it was when they moved to the racing chairs for the 5K that Gretsch closed a 1:21 gap. As the two women hit the blue carpet, it turned into a brutal all-out sprint to the line.
No words. Just 🤯pic.twitter.com/zvtOpMtbNs
— Team USA (@TeamUSA) August 28, 2021
“It’s a huge thanks to my coach and my teammates, because they’re everything to me,” said Gretsch, noting the U.S. paratri team trains together every day “and they push me and this was such a team effort. I’m just so happy and so grateful.”
In the PTS5 men’s and women’s events that followed, her teammates seemed inspired by her finish and called her out in their own interviews—with American Chris Hammer attempting his own sprint to the line for bronze, but he couldn’t quite make it and finished in 4th.
Grace Norman, who won gold as an 18-year-old in Rio (and picked up a bronze on the track there), couldn’t quite close her gap on the run either and swapped places with the 2016 silver medalist, Great Britain’s Lauren Steadman—a close friend and competitor over the years.
“We’ve really grown to be close friends and I respect her so much,” said Norman. “Of course, I wanted to win gold,” but if it had to be someone else, “for her to take gold was so exciting.”
After taking the lead out of the swim, Norman was caught on the bike and Steadman entered T2 with an 18 second lead. In Rio, Norman was able to run that down—but in Tokyo, in the heat and humidity, Steadman got to the line first.
Along the way, the American athletes who competed yesterday could be heard making noticeable noise in the empty stands and cheering on their teammates. “I really felt all the energy,” said Norman.