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With the racing world on pause as the planet continues to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, Triathlete is dipping back into the archives and revisit some of the biggest, most inspiring, and somewhat under-the-radar events in triathlon. Today, we’re looking back at a paratriathlon podium sweep during the 2016 Rio games.
In just less than a year from now, the 2021 Summer Paralympics is set to kick off in Tokyo, Japan. And, in the women’s paratriathlon, all eyes will be on the U.S. squad, who will be returning to the world’s biggest sports stage after posting dominating performances in Rio De Janeiro.
In fact, in the PT2 event–designated for athletes with mobility—the trio of Allysa Seely, Hailey Danz, and Melissa Stockwell, made history as they gamely grabbed gold, silver, and bronze, respectfully. It was the first podium sweep for the U.S. in the sport, which was being contested at the Olympics for the very first time.
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Even more poignant? The race was held on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack, somewhat fortuitous timing considering that Stockwell, then 36, is the first American female soldier to lose a limb in active combat after being hit by a roadside bomb in 2004.
“When it got really tough out there I thought of those that gave the ultimate sacrifice and didn’t make it back,” Stockwell, who has since had her second child, said after the race. “They pushed me to the finish—just wanting to give my thanks to them.”
On the morning of September 11, 2016, athletes took off from Copacabana Beach for a 750-meter ocean swim, before hitting the streets for a 20-kilometer bike ride followed by a 5K run. It was a shorter, but similarly technical course that the Olympic event followed just a couple of weeks before, which saw Gwen Jorgensen carve her own name in the history books by winning U.S.A.’s first-ever gold medal in triathlon.
Seely sealed up her win on the run (her 5K split of 24:13 was more than a minute faster than anyone else in the field), snatching the finishing tape 48 seconds ahead of Danz. And when Stockwell strode towards the finish another 41 seconds later, the three women embraced while holding an American flag and chanting “U.S.A”–a jubilant celebration of patriotism and pride for just how far they’d come.
And the domination didn’t stop there: In the PT4 category, 18-year-old Grace Norman used her running speed to break away from the pack on the run and finish more than a minute ahead of her next closest competitor to win gold. (A few days later, Norman, now a college grad and a Registered Nurse, transitioned to the track, where she competed in the 400m, earning a bronze for her efforts.)
Despite their Olympic dreams being deferred, Norman, Stockwell, Seeley, Danz have all stated their intent to compete in Tokyo in 2021–meaning another U.S. medal haul could be in the cards.
“It’s been such a year of uncertainty and no one knows what the future holds. But join me in staying positive knowing we can get through this together,” Stockwell wrote in a recent Instagram post. “And when #Tokyo2020ne does happen, I guarantee it’ll be worth the wait.”