Kendall Gretsch competing during the swimming phase of the women's PTWC triathlon at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 28, 2021 in Tokyo.
Kendall Gretsch didn’t even see Lauren Parker up there in first place of the women’s PTWC triathlon at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 until halfway through the final lap of the race. But once Gretsch saw her, she never let her out of her sight.
Gretsch caught the reigning world champion from Australia with just feet to go in a thrilling drag race to the finish line, breaking the tape and winning by one second with a time of 1:06:25. Gretsch came from 26 seconds down heading into the final lap, making up the deficit in the last three quarters of a mile of the 5-kilometer wheelchair race. It was the first Paralympic medal at the Summer Games for Gretsch, who owns two gold medals in Nordic skiing.
“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,” Gretsch said afterward. “It's kind of special that it ended that way because that's exactly what we worked for. It was just incredible.”
The 29-year-old from Downers Grove, Illinois, was competing in her first Paralympic triathlon but is no stranger to the sport, having won three world championships. She’s competed in paratriathlon since 2014, when she won her first national championship. While she made her Paralympic debut in Nordic skiing to great success, she had long hoped to compete in paratriathlon at the Games.
“I think going into the 2018 Winter Games I was so new to the sport, I really was just going there for the experience,” she said. “There was no pressure on me. Triathlon was the sport I started in, and I have been looking forward to this day for nine years now. It is just so special.
“It's been a lot of hard work to get here.”
Gretsch’s was not the only U.S. medal on the day as 2016 Paralympic gold medalist Grace Norman took silver in the PTS5 race that concluded Tokyo paratriathlon. In a reversal from Rio, it was Lauren Steadman of Great Britain who held on to beat Norman by 41 seconds with a time of 1:04:46. Norman was anything but disappointed with the silver, crossing the finish line with a big smile behind her friend and rival.
“Getting here, coming across the finish line, I had a great race start to finish, no regrets, gave it all,” Norman said. “So proud of Lauren for coming in first, I’m just overjoyed, it was an incredible day.”