By John Bombatch
All the countless hours of honing her skills, knocking off fractions of a second on her transitions and just improving her times in each pursuit, it all paid off when Jamestown’s Grace Norman became the first to ever win a gold medal in the women’s PT-4 category of the Paralympic Games triathlon, Sunday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In past meetings between the world’s top two PT-4 category women, Norman had been losing time to Great Britain’s Lauren Steadman in the transition stages. While Norman needed time to attach her left prosthetic leg after the triathlon’s swimming stage, Steadman — an arm amputee — didn’t require as much of a delay in preparing for the bicycle portion of the race.
For the same reasons, Norman also required a bit more time to change from a special bicycling shoe and leg apparatus to a specially designed running apparatus.
In Sunday’s triathlon along the shores of Copacabana Beach, Norman was able to cut the transition gap between herself and Steadman, and she picked up her swimming time as well to defeat the former world champion by over a minute.
“It feels amazing,” Norman told USA Triathlon after her gold-medal win. “It’s been a long journey, a lot of training, a lot of everything. … Last year, here at the test event, (Steadman) beat me out of the water by around a minute, and so I’ve been working extremely hard on my swim. So to move up and see improvements like that here and Rotterdam (where Norman won the 2016 World Championship) have just been a reward. I’m seeing my hard work pay off. I’ve improved on the bike and the run as well, but definitely the swim has been my big improvement.”
Norman came out of the water in first place with a time of 10:42 over the 750-meter distance, but her 1:47 transition time in preparation for the bike portion dropped her back behind Steadman. The Xenia Christian High School graduate kept the Brit in her sights throughout the 22.28-kilometer bike race, then caught and passed Steadman over the 5K run to earn the gold medal with a winning time of 1:10.39.
Steadman finished second in 1:11.43, and Gwladys Lemoussu, of France (1:14.31), earned the bronze medal.
“I delivered a performance I’m proud of,” Steadman told a Paralympics reporter. “I was running with Grace, and she is a phenomenal runner. I gave it my all.”
Norman, now a Cedarville University freshman, wrote another chapter in her Paralympic Games story on Monday night when she earned a bronze medal in the women’s T43/44 category 400-meter run. She set a new American record in doing so, finishing with a time of 1:01.83.
France’s Marie-Amerlie Le Fur won the event in a world-record setting time of 59.27 and Germany’s Irmgard Bensusan won the silver medal with a time of 59.62. Both times broke the former world record mark set in 2014 by the Netherlands’ Marlou Van Rhijn (1.00.78).
Norman is one of three athletes competing on two USA teams at the Paralympic Games. In her case, she is on the triathlon team as well as the track & field team. We’ll have more on Norman’s bronze medal performance in Wednesday’s newspaper.