After years of training for this moment, the Canadian Paralympic triathlon team has finally made its way to Japan for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
The last order of business for the team before its athletes caught their flight on Saturday, Aug. 21, was to all meet here in Whistler for some last-minute training and team bonding.
“The work is done, these guys have put in the long hours and the grind and all the tough sessions, so we don’t want to drop things down too much, because then they will just feel flat when we get there on the ground,” said head coach Carolyn Murray.
“And the other piece is really keeping the team bonded together, because they lift each other up. So even just being in the same place together in this environment is a lot of fun for them, and this team performs well when they have fun, so that was a big part of it too.”
Originally, the plan was to fly out to Japan early and get the last bit of training done in Miyazaki. But with COVID-19 limiting their options, Murray decided the next best thing to inspire her team before the competition starts was to spend a week here at the host site of the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
But it wasn’t all fun and games and pictures with the Olympic rings. There was some important work to do as well before the Games got underway on Aug. 24, like rehearsing and putting the final touches on things like the transition between biking and running.
“It needs to be fast, so we always practise jumping off the bike. So, taking our shoes off when we are on the bike then jumping off, putting our bike on the racks and getting our shoes on as quick as possible so we can start the run,” said first-time Paralympian Kamylle Frenette. “It’s almost like muscle memory. I think we practise it so much that you just kind of go through the motion, so that’s kind of cool.”
While Frenette is new to the whole process, Murray and teammate Stefan Daniel got their first taste of the Paralympic Games five years ago in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Daniel ended up winning a silver medal at the 2016 games—the first year triathlon was included in the Paralympics—and hopes to build on that experience in this year’s games.
“I didn’t ever expect that I would be able to reach that stage in sport so it was a very surreal experience, and getting to experience that at just 19 years of age was pretty cool,” he said. “It’s been a long time since then—I’ve come a long way in the sport and I’m hoping to claim that podium again in Tokyo.”
Murray is also looking to build off her 2016 Paralympic Games experience when she gets to Tokyo, but for her, that means better understanding how she can support each of her athletes individually.
“Just knowing each other better and knowing how to support for sure is a learning curve,” she said. “[In Rio], Stefan was 19, so for him it was a lot of pressure to be expecting to win a gold, and as a coach it was a lot of pressure … Now we have a bigger support team, and honestly, it’s a lot less stressful having this big team around us.”
As for Frenette, having both a coach and teammate who have experienced the Games before goes a long way to calming her nerves and raising her confidence ahead of her first Paralympic race on Aug. 28.
“That’s very helpful for sure. I think [Daniel] is an athlete that leads by example, so watching him train and just do his thing, I learn a lot from that. And he’s also super open to when I have questions or just helping like that, so definitely super helpful for me,” said Frenette.
“I’m super excited just to see the village and be in that environment. Definitely nervous, but nervous and excited.”
Despite the varying degrees of experience on the triathlon team, the goal, according to Murray, is simple: just win.
“These guys are fit and ready to go and prepared, so medals are on the table for all of them and we are just excited to go after it,” she said. “We can’t control the competition, but like I said, these guys are ready, and they are capable of being on the podium so that’s what we are after.”