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Despite a comparatively lighter schedule this weekend, the world of triathlon news was not hurting for storylines. At Ironman Switzerland, we saw a fairytale ending to Jan Van Berkel’s career, plus the unbelievable debut of rookie Leonard Arnold. In Montreal, paratriathlon kicked off off the qualifying journey toward Paris in 2024, and we got a glimpse of the talent we’ll see at the Games next year.
A storybook ending for Van Berkel at Ironman Switzerland
“In case someone wants to write a fairy tale,” Jan Van Berkel said in his latest Instagram post, “I have one to tell you.” Indeed, that’s exactly how to describe his race last weekend at Ironman Switzerland.
A few days ago in a land far away, a respected triathlete decided the dreamy venue of Ironman Switzerland would be the perfect place to end his career. The three-time defending champion was looking to bow out in style with another trademark performance in his home country. However, he was up against a stellar field that included two swift, short-course brothers named Andreas and Florin Salvisberg, as well as the recent Ironman Austria winner, Mathias Petersen.
In the Disney-movie scenery of Lake Thun, the athletes battled through a slow, choppy swim, with the Salvisberg brothers leading the way with 52-minute splits (considerably slower than usual). Van Berkel, clearly ready to leave everything out there for his last dance, came out of the water only two minutes down. Could he bridge the gap?
First, he would have to conquer a gauntlet of formidable foes, including Reuben Zepuntke, who was doing his best impression of Cameron Wurf on the bike course. Zepuntkie blew the whole field away, barreling into transition almost 10 minutes ahead of the rest of the field and smashing the course record by three minutes. There was also an unlikely contender in world-ranked #127 Leonard Arnold, who was riding his girlfriend’s bike in his Ironman debut (yes, you read that right – after a bike crash in the weeks leading up to the race, Arnold had no choice but to borrow his lady’s bike). Despite this, Arnold clocked the fourth-fastest bike split of the day and still somehow managed to leave T2 with a spring in his step.
Despite things looking bleak for our protagonist, Van Berkel impressively worked his way to the front of the chase group and was in the best position he could have been to unleash his hallmark fast run.
And then, an opportunity: the blitzing bike ride of Zepuntke turned into a blowout on the run shortly after the halfway point. Most of the chase pack caught him, and it was the Arnold who took the lead first. It seemed like he might spoil Van Berkel’s finish-line party, but then in true fairytale style, Van Berkel pulled out a heroic move with less than 9 miles to go, making the pass and taking the lead for good.
Sure enough, Van Berkel arrived first on the red carpet for the last time, where he was greeted by the electric, heart-melting cheers of the crowd (that included longtime friend and world record holder Daniela Ryf, who called the day an “emotional rollercoaster.”) He was followed by Arnold, who took home the second-place trophy and a pretty good story of his own.
Jan Frodeno summed it well in his reply to Van Berkel’s Instagram post about the race: “What dreams are made of👌”
Americans make strong showing at World Triathlon Para Series Montreal
In the first event that also featured Olympic qualifying points towards Paris in 2024, all of paratriathlon’s top names (including medalists from the past two Paralympics) were looking to light it up. Most of the athletes would’ve been hoping for a good result to springboard them into a busy set of racing coming up with Swansea, the Paris test event, and the Pontevedra Grand Final all on the horizon for the World Triathlon Para Series. The races took place on the Gilles Villeneuve Formula 1 track, which naturally calls for fast times. On the other hand, the heat and humidity showed up in full force and would push all of the athletes to their limits.
Coming into the weekend, all eyes were on PTWC (wheelchair) athletes Lauren Parker (AUS) and Kendall Gretsch (USA), whose rivalry continues long past the Tokyo Games (where Gretsch snatched the gold medal from Parker at the finish line). But Parker would be hard to beat in Montreal, having won the previous ten times in Montreal. As it turned out, the race delivered everything and then some: Parker continued her streak in Montreal with a clear win over Gretsch by almost three minutes, closely followed ten seconds behind by Jessica Ferreira of Brazil in third. (Fun fact: Parker is clearly sharing her playbook with Taylor Knibb, diving into cycling and taking the win in her debut at the Paracycling Cycling World Cup in May. Will we see both trying to pull off the tri-cycling double at the Paris Games?)
The men’s PTS3 category also drew heavy interest last weekend, as it will be featured for the first time in Paris (for men only). The category boasted a strong field of athletes including Nico Van Der Burgt (NED), Kini Carrasco (ESP), and Justin Godfray (AUS) – all looking to earn qualification points toward becoming the first-ever PTS3 gold medalist. In the end, it was Van Der Burgt who broke the tape.
In the PTS5 category, home-country hero Stefan Daniel took the win in the tough conditions by only 15 seconds over American Chris Hammer. It was a heartbreaking loss for Hammer, as his impressive 16:12 5km run put him within a shout of victory. Both will have to continue with gutsy performances like this if they wish to take down two-time two-time Paralympic champ Martin Schulz in Paris. In the women’s PTS5 race, current world champion Grace Norman (USA), outmatched her friend and Paralympic champion Lauren Steadman (GBR), on the run.
Other highlights from the race weekend in Montreal:
For the men’s PTWC division, American Howie Sanborn took the W, putting him in a prime position for the remainder of the season. He took down Nick Beveridge of Australia and Jumpei Kimura of Japan.
In the PTS4 category, it was an American podium sweep in the women’s race, with Kelly Elmlinger, Emma Meyers, and Kendra Herber wearing the stars and stripes proudly. Alexis Hanquinquant of France continued his three year-long winning streak, building a gap of over three minutes to best Carson Clough (USA) and Antonio Franko (CRO).
In the men’s PTS2 category, Maurits Morsink of the Netherlands overcame a three-minute gap in the swim to take the win, producing a marvelous bike display ahead of Mohamed Lahna of the USA. The bronze narrowly went to Wilm De Paepe (BEL) in this close race, with just a minute separating the top four. In the women’s race, Hailey Danz, who’s looking for gold in Paris after a bronze in Rio and a Silver in Tokyo, crossed the line first ahead of the remarkable Melissa Stockwell.
In the Visually Impaired (VI) category, which has three divisions competing for one medal, Spain’s Susana Rodriguez continued her winning streak; on the men’s side, Tokyo Silver medalist Héctor Catalá Laparra (ESP) finally made it atop another podium after missing out at the European Championships in Madrid. He was followed by Oscar Kelly, who posted a 16:58 5km – almost a minute faster than anyone in the field. Kyle Coon of the USA hung on to take the last step on the podium.
There’s a bit of everything in store for next weekend, with paratriathlon continuing in Swansea on its last stop before the Paris test event. Swansea also hosts a strong field of athletes taking on the popular 70.3 on the southern Welsh coast. Short-course fans will turn their attention to WTCS Hamburg, where big names will line up to take on the first-ever Super-Sprint World Championships in Germany. Part of that includes the Mixed Relay World Championships, which will qualify the winning team and two male and female athletes for next year’s Games. And finally, a women’s pro race awaits at Ironman Vitoria in the warmth of the Basque country.