Lauren Steadman dared and won to erase the disappointment of a Paralympic howler she feared might haunt her forever.
Steadman, the one-time Strictly dancer and winner of Celebrity SAS, underlined her favourite’s status to power to victory in the women’s PTS5 triathlon, finally claiming that elusive gold at her fourth Paralympics.
She missed the podium on her first two Games appearances as a swimmer and arrived in Brazil five years ago as a two-time world champion and hot gold medal prospect in her new sport.
However, a rookie mistake in the swim, when she headed in the wrong direction, ultimately cost her gold, a silver medal behind American Grace Norman no real consolation.
This time there were only happy tears as Steadman took the lead midway through the 20km bike and crossed the line with 41 seconds to spare, Norman taking silver and teammate Claire Cashmore bronze.
On return from Rio, Steadman stepped back from sport, admitting she was struggling to overcome the emotions of anger and frustration consuming her. The new challenges of reality TV helped restore her focus, though today’s field in Tokyo was surely a little more demanding than SAS rivals Joey Essex, Katie Prince and Anthea Turner.
“I was devastated after Rio, I was really destroyed, I didn’t go anywhere near my bike, my shoes or my swimsuit for seven months,” she said. “My coach told me: ‘You’re not done yet and keeping going’. I put all my faith in him and he got me there.
“It’s been hit and miss over the last four years, some races I’ve won, some I’ve narrowly missed out on but that’s a massive redemption
“Before Rio I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders and it really got to me. This time I knew the pressure was there but because that was such a terrible experience, I was determined to just enjoy this regardless of whether I got a medal or not.
“I was constantly trying to reappraise all the negativity and self-doubt and tell myself I can do this. It sounds cheesy but it worked. I went in Beijing aged 15 and came ninth, in London I was sixth and then I got silver in Rio, now I’ve got there ... finally.”
Steadman even claims her reality TV appearances have made her a better triathlete, her Paso Doble with AJ Pritchard making her lighter on her feet, her beasting at the hands of self-styled hardman Ant Middleton, sharpening her resilience.
“Everyone thinks doing things like Strictly are a distraction and away from the world of sport but they are also once in a lifetime opportunities,” she said.
“Doing those things matured me and made me a better athlete. After Strictly I did lose some power on the bike but it made me quicker on my feet, my running really improved.
“With Celebrity SAS you go to a very dark place and you have to go to a dark place in a triathlon too. I used that as a boot camp for training that year and made big improvements.”
If Steadman’s primary feeling was one of redemption she could empathise with Cashmore, who picked up bronze after being penalised for drafting during the bike leg. Another former swimmer, the eight-time medallist from the pool, is still learning her “tri-craft”, much like Steadman in Rio.
“I’m a bit broken hearted, you shouldn’t be disappointed with bronze but I am,” she said. “I’m in the best shape of my life and there was a lot more in me, it just wasn’t meant to be.
“Right now it’s a bit raw, I’ve got some thinking to do. It’s a bronze medal at the Paralympics, I’ve got to take the highlights from that and proud. It my first Games as a triathlete, I did the same in Athens as a swimmer and didn’t win a gold until 12 years later.”
Elsewhere, George Peasgood took silver in the men’s PTS5 race, leading through the swim and bike – his strongest element – before was caught by Germany’s Martin Schulz on the final lap in the 5km run.
However, he won’t have long to enjoy his podium moment, as he seeks a medal in another sport in Tuesday’s cycling time trial.
“Everyone is gunning for the win, there are five or six people that could be on the podium and everyone is pushing for the gold,” he said.
“Being here is a massive success after the last couple of months, getting here was all I could ever want and getting a medal is just crazy.
“There were 100 per cent moments when I thought I wouldn’t be here. After a race in Yokohama I had a bone stress in my ankle. I had six weeks without any running and I was on the anti-gravity treadmill and focusing on swim and bike training.
“There have been times when I’ve been pretty bad physically and mentally. It’s was one day, one race. Alex (Yee) and Georgia (Taylor-Brown) showed that in the Olympics, as soon as I saw those medals I knew it was possible for me.”
Sainsbury’s is a proud supporter of ParalympicsGB and a champion of inclusive sport for all. Sainsbury’s commitment to helping customers to eat better has been at the heart of what we do since 1869. For more information on Sainsbury’s visit www.sainsburys.co.uk/ and https://paralympics.org.uk/
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