Aug. 30, 2021

UCalgary triathlete delivers another medal at Tokyo Paralympics

Gutsy performance by Haskayne student Stefan Daniel earns bronze for Team Canada
UCalgary student Stefan Daniel takes the podium after winning a bronze medal at the  men's paratriathlon in the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
UCalgary student Stefan Daniel takes the podium after winning a bronze medal at the men's paratriathlon in the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Dave Holland, Canadian Paralympic Committee

No one needs to question Stefan Daniel's effort at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Sunday morning's investment was clear.

Daniel, within seconds of crossing the finish line in the men's paratriathlon, collapsed from apparent exhaustion. As a precaution, he was taken in a wheelchair to the medical tent.

"That's one of the darkest places I've been — that was really hard," Daniel said of the race's conclusion. "I absolutely fought as hard as I could. I'm proud of that now. I easily could have packed it in and just accepted losing, but I really kept with it. I know there's so many people supporting me back home and I definitely wanted to win a medal for them, so I pushed as hard as I could.

"I left nothing on the course. At the end of the day, that's all you can do; that's all you can ask for."

Perseverance leads to medal 

The gutsy performance got him the bronze medal, putting him on the podium — again. In Rio de Janeiro five years ago, the first time paratriathlon had been contested at the Paralympics, he earned silver.

"The initial reaction was a little disappointment — I definitely wanted to win (Sunday)," said Daniel, a student in the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary and a member of the Dinos' cross-country running team. "But that's sport. These guys are the best in the world and there's no room for error."

The 10-man field — which included the top-five finishers from Rio de Janeiro — lined up at Odaiba Marine Park at 8:30 a.m. local time. Already the temperature was 29 C, with 80 per cent humidity.

"It was no joke. It was definitely challenging," said Daniel, whose race preparation included extreme-condition training. "I was ready for it ... I don't think that's why I lost. But the heat is humbling, for sure."

The path to bronze 

As four-time world champion, and as someone who had won the last nine international paratriathlons he'd entered, the Calgarian was a pre-race favourite.

Sure enough, he stayed in the mix, from start to finish.

After the 750-metre swim, Daniel trailed only two men — Great Britain's George Peasgood and Germany's Martin Schulz, the 2016 gold-medallist — heading into the 20-kilometre cycling stage.

The trio formed the lead pack.

Schulz surged past Peasgood during the five-kilometre run, but Daniel could not gain ground on either of them. He remained in third, finishing in 59:22, 72 seconds behind Schulz.

"I was hoping to have a bit better swim and bike," said Daniel, who was born with bilateral radial club hands — his right arm, in particular, is affected. "But in triathlon, it's hard to predict exactly how it's going to play out. Honestly, I didn't really go into it with a game plan. It was just work as hard as I could and focus on myself. I did my best. There were a lot of nerves this week. I'm happy to have raced and to be done."

In a matter of days, Daniel returns to the UCalgary campus — with no plans of slowing down. After all, he is the defending cross-country champ in the Canada West Conference. Not incidentally, the Dinos have captured back-to-back U Sports titles. And for the 24-year-old, the 2024 Paralympic Games are already a consideration.

"Definitely Paris is on the radar."