At the finish line, knowing full well he placed second, Stefan Daniel admits he'd been overwhelmed by disappointment.
After all, he won the world paratriathlon championship the previous year, so settling for silver at the 2016 Paralympic Games was not part of the plan.
But in the coming weeks, Daniel arrived at a different conclusion. He determined his result that morning in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was noteworthy — in a very good way.
Because he had proven something, dragging himself from the pack to the podium. He points out that after the 750-metre swim and the 20-kilometre cycling stage he was wedged in fifth place. Only the five-kilometre run remained.
"It would've been pretty easy to pack it in," Daniel said. "But I remember thinking to myself, 'You know what? I've trained really hard for this. There's a lot of people supporting me back home. I think I'll regret it forever if I don't at least put in my best effort here.'"
So, on the fly, he had rallied. The manner in which Daniel, then only 19, regrouped turned out to be something to celebrate.
"It felt like I won the silver medal versus lost the gold," said Daniel, in his third year in the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary. "That's stuff I can take forward with me — even if a race isn't going well. I know I'll still give my best effort.
"I appreciate the silver, for sure, but it's kept me motivated for Tokyo as well."
Which brings Daniel, plenty stoked and nicely seasoned, to the 2020 Paralympics. For the men's triathlon — Saturday at 3:30 p.m. MT (action streamed on cbcsports.ca) — he is one of the favourites. And the 24-year-old is ready.
Victories leading up to Summer Paralympics
In June, after having not raced for 21 months, he hit the international circuit for a pair of events, triumphing in A Coruña, Spain, and Pleasant Prairie, Wis.
"Racing fitness and training fitness are totally different things," said Daniel, who was born with bilateral radial club hands — his right arm, in particular, is affected. "I felt really rusty in Spain. I was able to win, thankfully, but I didn't feel that I was quite at my best.
"The race in Wisconsin, I definitely felt a lot better. Just getting a race under my belt helped ... I felt more like myself."
It's worth noting Daniel is ranked No. 1 in the world.
The dizzying level of success has followed him to the cross-country trails. Running for the UCalgary Dinos varsity team, Daniels has been part of back-to-back U Sports titles. In the fall of 2019, he also won the individual championship in the Canada West conference.
Now, though, his focus is squarely on Tokyo. He knows what to expect at Odaiba Marine Park — a flat and fast course (where he won by more than two minutes at a 2019 World Cup event) as well as brutal conditions.
"Obviously, very, very hot," said Daniel. "It's supposed to be one of the hottest Games ever. It'll be an interesting challenge. That's the main thing we've been getting ready for."
Prepared for peak performance
As part of his training regimen, Daniel sweated through hours of stationary-bike and treadmill workouts in a fan-less trailer, with the temperature and humidity cranked. All part of his path to a peak performance at the Paralympics.
So — more accustomed to the heat now, more mature than he was five years ago in Rio — expectations are high for the Calgarian.
"I was pretty young back then and relatively green for the sport — I've come a long way since then," Daniel said. "It was good to get that experience ... so I think I'm a lot less anxious going into these Games."
Article courtesy of University of Calgary