TOKYO, Japan — Another day to celebrate for Team USA at Odaiba Marine Park, where American para-tri-athletes Kendall Gretsch and Grace Norman secured a gold and silver medal, respectively.
The morning started with the Women’s PTWC race that saw Gretsch winning the gold medal, the third in triathlon for Team USA in this edition of the Paralympic Games. Gretsch came back from behind and won the race only one second ahead of the Australian Lauren Parker.
After the swimming portion, Gretsch was in sixth position with more than three minutes gap from the lead. However, she made a difference during cycling as she immediately gained four positions and drastically reduced the gap with the race leader. At the beginning of cycling, her gap was two minutes and 24 seconds; at the end, the gap was one minute and 20 seconds.
She was even more motivated during the run as she watched the gap reducing lap after lap on the screen. Finally, both the American and the Australian arrived together by the finish line. Still, Gretsch managed to cross it one second earlier, winning her first gold medal at the Summer Paralympics and her third Paralympic gold medal.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” Gretsch said after her race. “I think this has been a long time coming. I’ve worked for this for so long.”
“I knew it was gonna be a close race. And so that was something that I trained for. And I knew that it was going to be a sprint finish; I practiced for that. I knew if I could just keep chipping away time and getting closer and closer, then I had a shot. And so I just gave everything I could and that was all I could give for today. And so it was incredible.”
The other medal of the day came from Grace Norman in the women’s PTS5. She started the race very fast; she was in second place after the swimming session, then on the bike, she led for half of the session until the British Lauren Steadman overtook her and kept the lead until the end. Norman finished in the second position, winning the silver medal.
“It was such a long five years to get here. But I’m just overjoyed,” Norman said at the end of her race.
“It was an incredible day. I’m proud of Lauren Steadman and I’m proud of all the other athletes, it’s such an amazing camaraderie.”
“I am very happy with it. I took the swim I wanted, I got a really good lead and held down on the bike. I lost to Lauren, but I did all I could on the run and was very pleased with my performance.”
In the same race, another American athlete, Kelly Elmlinger, ranked in the seventh position. She is a US Army veteran and a first time Paralympian.
“I don’t know what words to say, but I know how to feel,” she said at the end of her race.
“It has been unbelievable. Having this experience, watching my teammates have this experience, seeing my teammates up on the podium… just the inspiration from watching them race yesterday.”
“I love my team, I love to support, I love the love I get, and I love to give them love. And to me, that’s what this is all about, it’s bigger than a medal, it’s bigger than a place. It’s really about the people.”
Elmlinger served as a combat medic for over 20 years, she was deployed three times, and then she served as a surgical nurse at Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas.
In 2013, she was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a soft tissue tumor that forced her to have numerous surgeries and ultimately to amputate her leg in 2016. She then started practising triathlon and had the chance to represent Team USA in Tokyo.
“It’s such a privilege and an honor to have worn the US Army uniform for over 20 years. And I went from wearing a US Army uniform to put it on another US uniform. And I love being able to represent these colors. And to be able to take it to the biggest stage,” she said.
“I deployed three times, and to me, that’s kind of the biggest stage in the army. […] Now to come to this, this side of sports and be at the top of the game, and to be able to wear the colors, it’s equally humbling, but just in a different manner. I just can’t believe that I have been able to continue representing the United States, it is such an honor.”
Elmlinger said to be very satisfied with the race as she thought she would not make it to Tokyo because her category was not selected. Still, she had the opportunity to compete within another classification, so she was already happy she could be in Tokyo. But now, she has her eyes set on Paris 2024, where she hopes to do better.
In the men’s PTS5, Chris Hammer represented the colors of the US. He finished his race in fourth position, only six seconds away from the podium.