After one hour and six minutes of racing, the difference between Paralympic gold and silver came down to one second. American Kendall Gretsch chased down Australian Lauren Parker in the homestretch of the women’s triathlon PTWC to win gold at the Tokyo Paralympics.
Gretsch said she wasn’t able to see Parker in front of her until the final of four laps during the 5km run portion of the triathlon.
“As soon as I saw her, I was like, ‘Hey, you just have to do it.’ You have to give everything you can. On that final stretch I just put my head down and that was all I could do,” the 29-year-old Gretsch said.
“I knew it was going to be such a close race, so that finish is something I have been training for with my coach and my team this entire extra year.”
Spain’s Eva Maria Moral Pedrero claimed bronze, finishing eight minutes behind Gretsch and Parker.
— #TokyoParalympics (@NBCOlympics) August 28, 2021
While the sport of triathlon made its Paralympic debut in 2016, Tokyo marked the debut of the PTWC event.
Like all Paralympic sports, athletes who compete in triathlon are classified based on their degree of disability. Triathlon’s PTWC event if for athletes who use a handcycle for the cycling portion of the race and a pushrim racing chair for the running portion. Athletes are classified either as PTWC1 (more impaired) or PTWC2 (less impaired). The event uses an interval start, with PTWC1 athletes starting ahead of PTWC2 athletes.
(Curious about the difference between handcycles and racing chairs? Handcycles have gears – just like bicycles! – while racing chairs don’t.)
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Gretsch – who was born with spina bifida and competes as a PTWC2 – grew up in Downers Grove, Illinois. She began competing in triathlons in 2012 through the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club, which is based in Chicago. She won world titles in triathlon in 2014, 2015, 2016, but because her class wasn’t included at the Rio Games, Paralympic gold was out of reach until now.
Without the opportunity to compete at the Paralympics in triathlon, Gretsch instead turned her attention to Nordic skiing (which includes both biathlon and cross-country skiing events).
Gretsch recounted the story of her introduction to nordic skiing to FasterSkier in 2019:
The high performance director for triathlon and the high performance director for nordic were in contact and our triathlon director said, ‘Hey, we have these athletes who are endurance athletes and they don’t have a medal anymore in Rio. They might be good candidates to try transferring over to nordic.’
Gretsch made her Paralympic debut at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, where she became the first American athlete to win biathlon gold at either the Paralympics or Olympics. She left PyeongChang with two medals (both gold).
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With her triathlon win in Tokyo, Gretsch became the fifth American – and third U.S. woman – to win gold at both the summer and winter Paralympic Games.
“Triathlon was the sport I started in, and I have been looking forward to this day for nine years now,” she said after today’s race. “It is just so special.”
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How to watch the Tokyo Paralympics
NBC will provide over 1,200 hours of Paralympic coverage. Here are some highlights: