A Paralympic Preview: Para-triathlon

With the Paralympic Games rapidly approaching, Report On Rio will preview every event that has a Canadian team competing in Brazil — featuring past results, schedules, rosters, and expectations.

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Stefan Daniel (left), Sasha Boulton, Christine Robbins and Chantal Givens make up the first Canadian Paralympic para-triathlon team.

History will be made at Rio de Janeiro’s Fort Copacabana on September 10 and 11 as this military base will serve as the backdrop of the first ever Paralympic triathlon competition.

This para-triathlon in Rio will replicate the race format established by the International Triathlon Union: Each competitor will complete a 750-metre swim, a 20-kilometre bike ride and a five kilometre run en route to finishing this physically punishing challenge.

When Simon Whitfield (Kingston, Ont.) crossed the finish line to win the first ever Olympic gold medal for triathlon at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, he dramatically increased interest in this multi-sport event among Canadians from coast to coast.

Triathlon Canada is aiming for a  similar phenomenon to occur for para-triathlon if the Canadian team shines in Rio. Representing Canada is Stefan Daniel (Victoria, B.C.) in the PT4 men’s race, Chantal Givens (Winnipeg, Man.) in the PT4 women’s race, and Chantal Robbins (Ottawa, Ont.) — with assistance from her guide Sasha Boulton (Ottawa, Ont.) — in the women’s PT5 race for visually-impaired athletes.

                                                             Road to Rio:

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Stefan Daniel is a gold medal favourite for the PT4 men’s class.

Daniel secured a position at the Rio Games, and signalled to the world that he is a formidable contender for Paralympic gold, by winning the ITU Grand Final in Chicago last September.

A particularly striking element of this triumph by the 19-year-old is that he ended his German competitor Martin Schulz’s two-year unbeaten streak in major competitions — and he did so in dramatic fashion. The first-time Paralympian trailed his accomplished opposer after both the swimming and cycling portions of the race, but his experience as a cross country runner for the University of Calgary allowed him to close the deficit and overtake Schulz for the win.

Givens earned an berth at the Paralympics by virtue of being ranked within the top seven — she occupies the  seventh spot— of the women’s PT4 Rio qualification rankings at the conclusion of the precursory tournaments in late June. Her first place finish at the para-triathlon event in  Aguilas, Spain — the first international victory of her 15-year career — went a long way in sealing the deal for the Manitoban.

Due to not landing one of the seven qualification slots for the PT5 class, whether or not Robbins would merit an invite to Rio was completely in the hands of the ITU’s Bipartite Selection Panel. It was announced on July 12 that she was one of the panel’s three selections to round out the PT5 competition. The committee considered  “excellence of performance as the primary driver” when deciding whom would get to compete. Robbins displayed excellence by being ranked eighth in the world when the deliberations were taking place.

Meet the Team:

Sprinting has always been a part of Daniel’s life as he  started participating in local foot races in his hometown of Calgary, Alta. when he was very young. His passion for running encouraged him to join his high school’s cross-country team. This decision bore tremendous fruit as he captured a national title.

He later joined the University of Calgary Athletics Club to continue gaining racing experience. His physical gifts are so strong that he is capable of thriving against able-bodied competitors. One of his biggest career achievements is capturing the 2015 Canadian junior triathlon championship against able-bodied opponents.

Daniel was born with bilateral radial club hands, which especially affects his right hand. Older brother Christian is a role model for Daniel on how to live with a disability. Christian, born with cerebral palsy, represented Canada in para-swimming at both the 2011 and 2015 Parapan American Games. Stefan told the Canadian Press that his brother is so inspiring because, “He never let his disability get to him. He’s the happiest guy, most positive guy around. He takes his disability for what it is: ‘I have to accept it and I have to be happy with it.'”

It was seeing the expressions of joy from participants of the 2001 Edmonton Triathlon

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Chantal Givens is a three-time Canadian para-triathlon champion.

World Championship when they crossed the finish line that hooked Givens, now 38, to triathlon. Born without a left hand, she  competed nationally and internationally in age-group and able-bodied triathlons before competing in her first para-triathlon in 2012. She ended up winning the 2012 Canadian Para-triathlon Championship in a tight sprint finish. This victory compelled her to attempt to qualify for the Rio Games.

Read Quinton Amundson’s feature story about how Givens came back from injury to keep her Paralympic dreams alive.

Just as it is the case for Daniel,  running is Robbins’ favourite aspect of the para-triathlon. She explained why in an interview with Triathlon Magazine: ““It’s freedom. I’m in control and really, nothing can go wrong.”

Cycling, she says, is a bit more “nerve-wracking” because of all of the technical aspects that she has to keep in mind as a result of riding in a tandem.

While sharing a bike with another athlete does not come naturally to Robbins, her partnership with Boulton has fit like a glove. Robbins, 38, says she enjoys working with her  22-year-old guide as she has “great, young energy and enthusiasm.”

                                                 Expectations

 Daniel has never finished below second place in any of his past eight para-triathlons dating back to the 2014 ITU Grand Final in Edmonton. It would be quite surprising if he and Schulz did not finish in the top two spots.

Triathlon Canada is looking for Givens to achieve a top-five finish in the Pt4 women’s race. This is definitely doable considering she has finished within the top five in seven of her past eight races.  A spot on the podium is attainable if Givens produces at her peak.

Robbins and Boulton finished eighth at the ITU world series event  hosted in Rotterham, England back in July. The Canadian duo are expected to finish in the top eight in Brazil.


Photo Credit: Canadian Paralympic Committee

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