USA power to Para triathlon domination following Paralympic success

Athletes pick up 39 medals in 2017 after topping the standings at Rio 2016 02 Jan 2018
a female Para triathlete stands on the podium and bites her gold medal

Paralympic champion Grace Norman is leading the USA's dominance of Para triathlon

ⒸGetty Images
By Adam Bailey | For the IPC

“USA Triathlon has been a big part of my success. In the beginning, they provided opportunities for me to race locally, and then once I was named to the national team they have helped with funding, equipment and overall support."

The seeds of success were sown at Rio 2016, and now USA Triathlon is continuing to water the roots in hope of further Paralympic success.

The USA topped the medal table in triathlon’s Paralympic debut last summer with four medals, including two golds, while three of their athletes just missed the podium. This season has continued to show the country’s strength in depth and the recent announcements of their resident and development programmes are another major step forward.

“We had a lot to celebrate after Rio 2016, but our challenge was to continue that success,” USA Triathlon communications manager Caryn Maconi said. “We have seen many rising stars come through the woodwork this season, and each of our Rio 2016 medallists continued their success in various ways.”

All four of the USA’s medallists from Rio have won medals at international events this year, including Paralympic champion Grace Norman.

The 19-year-old only took up the sport in 2014, but she is now a Paralympic and double world champion after successfully defending her PTS5 world title in September.

“I have always had the dream of becoming a Paralympian since I was young, but I never thought I would achieve a gold medal and multiple world medals so quickly,” Norman said.

“USA Triathlon has been a big part of my success. In the beginning, they provided opportunities for me to race locally, and then once I was named to the national team they have helped with funding, equipment and overall support,” Norman added.

2017 has also seen new stars emerge as the USA won 32 medals in this season’s World Para Triathlon Series and World Cup events; in addition to seven medals at September’s World Championships in Rotterdam.

Allan Armstrong is one of many US Para triathletes still relatively new to the sport, having only taken it up in 2015, but he is already a national champion and World Cup winner. Armstrong praises USA Triathlon for enabling him to make a smooth transition into the sport.

“Every step of the way; from classification to setting goals for Tokyo 2020, I have benefited from unparalleled support from USA Triathlon,” Armstrong said. “The support I have received has made what could have been a confusing and wayward journey into a clear path to my Olympic goals.”

Developing talent

USA Triathlon are always looking for ways they can improve and strengthen their programme, and, in October, they announced the launch of their Para Triathlon Resident Athlete Programme, starting in April 2018.

The athletes selected for the programme will benefit from high-performance training services at the US Olympic Training Centre in Colorado Springs and support ahead of Tokyo 2020.

“We see this programme as a big game changer for our elite pipeline here in the US,” Amanda Duke Boulet, USA Triathlon Para Triathlon Programme Senior Manager, said. “It gives these few athletes the opportunity to focus 100 per cent on their training and racing for the next two-and-a-half-years before Tokyo 2020.”

Supporting and rewarding the next crop of talented athletes rising-up the talent pipeline is another key focus for USA Triathlon and the national governing body has recently announced its development team for next season.

Three of the six athletes selected to the team are active or retired US military members and Allan Armstrong, who has been an active duty soldier in the U.S. Army since 2003, thinks it is no coincidence that military personnel make good Para triathletes.

“It may come as a surprise to some people how similar triathlon is to the Army experience,” Armstrong said. “The mental resilience required to train over long hours and under gruelling circumstances is the same in the Army and the mentality when executing a plan is also similar as we must have a clear mind and trust in our training to get the job done no matter what.”

One of the benefits of being selected for the development team is coaching and Grace Norman says the USA Triathlon coaches have been pivotal to her development.

“The key to my success has been my coach, Wesley Johnson,” Norman said. “I started working with him almost two years ago and he has greatly improved all aspects of each discipline. There is a very strong coaching team that continues to push me and other athletes to new levels and help us achieve great success.”

Looking ahead to Tokyo 2020 and beyond

While their main focus is building for Tokyo 2020, USA Triathlon have already started looking ahead to Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 as they search for the USA’s next generation of stars.

“Our big goals for Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 is to reach younger athletes and get them involved in the sport,” Amanda Duke Boulet said. “As with most programmes, finding the funding to support our various initiatives is always a challenge, but we are excited for the future of our programme and our athletes’ successes.”

Paralympic champion Norman is looking forward to seeing more young talent breakthrough over the next few years.

“I don’t have a lot of competition within the USA in my class as of yet, but I am excited as the sport grows to see more and more competition,” Norman said. “Training with other athletes is incredible and so important to boost the morale and increase motivation. I encourage any young athlete to follow and pursue their dreams like I am.”