A busy day at the Fuji International Speedway saw 19 Paralympic champions crowned across the time trial event, as road cycling kicked off on Tuesday (31 August) at Tokyo 2020.
A plethora of highlights included Keiko Sugiura bringing glory to Japan by winning the women’s C1-3; Germany’s Annika Zeyen, the Netherlands’ Jetze Plat and the USA’s Oksana Masters showed that excellence in one sport can carry over into another, as they each won their respective categories; and a young star in France’s Alexandre Lloveras, with pilot Corentin Ermenault, is on the rise.
It sets the tone for the next three days of road cycling at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
BACK ON A BIKE
When the Paralympics were postponed, Keiko Sugiura thought she would not compete in 2021 as she would be 50 years old by then. But only getting her time trial bike three months ago, the pharmacist got back on and made it a goal to at least podium at her home Games.
She did better than podium by winning gold, clocking 25:55.76 on the 24km course, which was almost 30 seconds ahead of silver medallist Anna Beck of Sweden. A runner-up at the 2019 World Championships in the time trial, the former able-bodied triathlete won her first major career gold medal in Para sports — and did so on her home course.
“I’m really pleased that I didn’t quit," Sugiura said. “The people around me supported me to continue this sport. Maybe I’ll give speeches everywhere (about) how to win a gold medal at my age, promoting my story.”
At 50 years old, local rider Keiko Sugiura won the women’s C1-3 event
ANOTHER GOLD, ANOTHER SPORT
Five years ago, Germany’s Annika Zeyen was competing for a gold medal in wheelchair basketball at Rio 2016. Her team lost to the USA in the final, which might have concluded Zeyen’s Paralympic career. But still hungry and having energy for more, she switched to Para cycling and after finding success on with back-to-back World Championship titles in the road race, the 36-year-old German added another gold to her outstanding resume in the time trial H1-3, picking up speed in the final 8km to record a fast enough time ahead of Italy’s Francesca Porcellato, the reigning world champion. Zeyen was one of eight German medallists (three golds total) on Tuesday.
“I was never planning on competing in another sport, but I’m just so ambitious," Zeyen said. "Winning gold medals in two different sports at Paralympic Games, that’s definitely enough.”
The Netherlands’ Jetze Plat was coming fresh off a gold medal in triathlon, and not only did he add another Paralympic gold on Tuesday, but also his first in the time trial H4. He did not make the podium in the event at Rio 2016, and took bronze in the road race. But since then, the Dutchman went on to become undefeated in both disciplines at all World Championships, to set the stage for Tokyo 2020. And he did not disappoint, securing the third gold medal for his country that day (five total).
“It was the plan (to win both triathlon and cycling). It was a bit risky, but I recovered really well after the triathlon and I felt so ready yesterday," Plat said. “I had a flat tire in training yesterday, so that was the only thing that I said, ‘Oh no… what if?’ but the bad luck was only yesterday and today it was all perfect.”
The USA’s Oksana Masters finally secured her first Paralympic Summer Games gold after winning the H5 category. It was a long time coming, having not reached the podium at Rio 2016. Her victory adds to the pair of PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games gold medals in Nordic skiing. Team USA won a three medals, two being gold in the time trial.
"This was not expected," Masters said. "I was just trying to hold on and fight for third place. I never in a million years thought I would be fighting for a gold medal at all. At Tokyo 2020. In cycling."
RISING AND RETURNING TALENTS
Injury held him back from competing in athletics, but France’s Alexandre Lloveras found a way to keep doing sport by taking up cycling, and it seemed to suit him best.
The 21-year-old was blistering fast in the men’s B to take gold on his Paralympic debut and spelled more to come from the Frenchman.
"To win the gold medal is fantastic, it's a dream come true," Lloveras said. "This medal is for all my family - my father, my mother and all the staff. Thank you so much. It's incredible."
Not new to the sport, Great Britain’s Sarah Storey won her sixth Paralympic cycling road gold medal in the women's C5 time trial. It adds to the gold she won in the Velodrome last week.
“ The time trial is probably one of my favourite events," Storey said. “It’s the ‘race of truth’. It’s you against the clock, and trying to pick off your competitors as you see them."
With a gold in track, British Sarah Story takes the good vibe to road cycling and wins the women's C5 time trial
Competition continues on Wednesday (1 September) with road races.