By Merryn Sherwood on 15/04/12 at 4:16 am
Paratriathlon in Australia has officially kickstarted its Paralympic pathway, with the first Triathlon Australia and Australia Paralympic Committee seminar in Sydney last Friday.
Participants ranged from medical specialists, like physiotherapists and doctors, classifiers from current Paralympic sports, sports administration staff, coaches - including Triathlon Australia’s high performance team, Australian Paralympic Committee staff and athletes. They gathered together in Sydney to receive an overview on the history of paratriathlon, and a background on the ITU classification system and ITU rules, led by ITU’s head of Paratriathlon Classification Marguerite Christophers.
It was the first seminar of its kind, as Triathlon Australia and the Australian Paralympic Committee start to work together ahead of Rio. Paratriathlon was officially accepted onto the Paralympic programme in December 2010, and will make its Paralympic debut at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. APC Classification Manager Genevieve McMahon said that the seminar was the launchpad for the sport in Australia.
“It’s an initiative from the APC and Triathlon Australia to provide a general overview of Paratriathlon in order to kickstart our programmes here,” she said. “So the most important part of that being the introduction to the classication system. Being able to identify where an athlete fits as early as possible in their pathway, is really critical.
“We are four years out from Rio, and so in order for Australia as competitive as possible this is a really important opportunity for us to have all of our networks, not just our National Federations and High Performance programmes but our State representatives here, to know who we are looking for, and where they fit in the system. This provides an opportunity to get the key people, all their heads in the room and work out what are the next steps for us, what are the next steps for the committee.”
Murray Hilder, Chair of Triathlon Australia’s Paratriathlon Committee, said that Triathlon Australia were committed to not only making Paratriathlon a viable option for all athletes with a disability, but also honouring Australia’s triathlon legacy and strong Paralympic history.
“In Paralympic sports in general, Australia has a very successful history, we need to ensure we continue with that tradition,” Hilder said. “Triathlon in Australia is also a very popular sport and we’ve had a lot of success, so for us in terms of a National Federation we need to carry that tradition across to Paratriathlon, and we’re confident we can do it, but we need to do it right.”
Representatives from the Triathlon Australia’s Paratriathlon Committee were also in attendance. The committee was formed in October 2011 and includes Hilder, Anne Gripper, Michael Hartung, Alex Fehon, Jacqui Kenny, Michael Flynn and two legendary Australian Paralympic athletes, Lindy Hou and Michael Milton. Hou has a degenerative eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa and has been legally blind since 1996. She was a fiercely competitive triathlete and a successful triathlon coach but when her eyesight deteriorated she was forced to give up competitive cycling and coaching. Milton is a leg amputee, who is Australia’s fastest skier in history and six-time winter Paralympic gold medallist, and made his summer Paralympics debut in Beijing in cycling. He competed in the 2011 Paratriathlon World Championships in Beijing, and he said what learned from the seminar was that Paratriathlon had untapped potential worldwide.
“I think triathlon as a sport has so much potential because of its participation base, so many sports for athletes with disabilities have a reverse structure, where the majority of athletes are elite and you don’t have any participation base,” Milton said. “One of the things that really hit me today was that there are 43 countries with a thousand athletes competing in paratriathlon, and we are seeing at world championships in Beijing there was 70 or 80 athletes, we’re seeing the participation base and then this little point of the triangle at the top end with the elite end. So many sports that I see are the other way round, so it’s a cool sport to be a part of.”
He said his advice to athletes looking to try Paratriathlon was that it was challenging, but that’s what made it so worthwhile.
“As an athlete, I love riding my bike, I was a competitive swimmer up until 15 and I’m enjoying getting back in running, I love challenging myself and triathlon offers those things to be as an individual athlete. It’s an immense challenge, but it’s an extremely rewarding experience. I guess also in triathlon, there is so much variety, the chance to do a sprint distance race or stretch yourself and go longer, all of those challenges can be good things and from my point of view it’s been really rewarding to learn more about the sport.”
To find out more about Paratriathlon, please click here. To find out more about Paratriathlon in Australia, please click here. To find out more about the Australian Paralympic Committee please click here.