It has been nearly 16 years since Simon Whitfield’s seminal victory at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
The Kingston, Ont. native, then 25-years-old, captivated Canada by winning the first male triathlon in the history of the Games. The popularity of the sport dramatically increased throughout the country due to his success.
There are high hopes that 19-year-old Stefan Daniel can replicate this feat in the inaugural Paralympic paratriathlon competition later this year in Rio de Janeiro.
The speedster, who resides in Victoria, B.C, is embracing these grand expectations.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say my main goal is to win gold,” Daniel said in an interview with Report on Rio on Tuesday. “There are definitely a lot of other athletes from other countries that can win, but I’m focused on finishing on top of the podium.”
He established himself as a bona fide threat to win at the Paralympics, and officially punched his ticket to Rio, by swimming, biking and running his way to a paratriathlon world championship last September in Chicago.
Incredibly, the young man also captured a junior-elite triathlon and youth cross-country national title against able-bodied competitors last year.
Daniel was officially named as a member of Canada’s first ever Paralympic paratriathlon team on Tuesday by Triathlon Canada and the Canadian Paralympic Committee. Chantal Givens (Winnipeg, Man.), Christine Robbins (Ottawa, Ont.), and Robbins’ guide Sasha Boulton (Ottawa, Ont.) are the other members of this historic squad.
It was a special experience for Daniel to stand alongside his fellow Canadian para-triathletes during the team announcement ceremony because they have all inspired him throughout his young career.
“They have really shown me that one of the best ways to deal with your disability is to be positive and energetic and that triathlon can be done even though you have a disability, and it should not hold you back.”
Daniel was born with bilateral radial club hands that especially affects his right arm. His right arm is seven inches shorter than his left arm due to missing over half of his radius bone.
A shortened forearm means Daniel has weakened grip strength. He initially struggled with controlling his bike when he began paratriathlon in 2013. After attending a para-cycling camp and making some alterations to his bike in order to shift gears and brake better, Daniel began his meteoric rise up to No.2 in the world rankings.
No adjustments were required to thrive in the foot race stage — he is a sprinter at heart.
“The running is definitely my favourite part,” Daniel said. “I have been running for a long time. I did cross-country in high school and I am a member of the [University of Calgary Dinos] cross-country running team.”
He is skilled at squaring races and overtaking his opponents with his strong running abilities. The Canadian trailed Germany’s Martin Schulz after the swimming and cycling stages of last year’s world championship, but found a way to make up the gap and dethrone his rival for the gold medal. This victory ended a two-year undefeated streak for Schulz in the PT4 category.
Schulz and Daniel are considered co-favourites to win the first ever Paralympic paratriathlon race on Sept. 10. The competition consists of a 750-metre swim, a 20-kilometre bike ride and a five-kilometre run.
Daniel will be swimming, cycling and running five times per week leading up to the start of the Rio Games. He will also participate in some junior races and training camps to help him prepare for the biggest battle of his young paratriathlon career.
Photos courtesy of the Canadian Paralympic Committee