From non-swimmer to Para Triathlon champion in 18 months
Para triathlete Jade Jones couldn’t swim 18 months ago, but on Saturday she swam, cycled and raced, becoming the first women’s Para Triathlon champion in Commonwealth Games history.
Jones competed at the London and Rio Paralympics and Glasgow Games as a wheelchair racer, but decided to take up para triathlon after watching the inaugural Olympic event in Rio.
There was one challenge - the swim.
“I couldn’t swim come November 2016 and that’s when I started to learn,” Jones told GC2018.com.
“It’s been really hard and it’s meant a lot of hours in the pool just doing a lot of pretty tedious technical work but it’s going well and I’m getting better.”
While GC2018 was Jones’ first time competing in Para Triathlon at a major Games, it isn’t Jones’ first time on the Commonwealth Games podium. She won bronze in the T54 1500m at the Glasgow Games, her first medal performance in a senior competition.
The multi-talented athlete, now 22, has a Commonwealth title to her name and will compete in the women’s T54 Marathon on the final day of competition, Saturday 15 April, for a chance at a second medal.
Jones is coached by Ian Thompson and Tanni Grey-Thompson, two influences she said have shaped her career.
The Baroness Grey-Thompson is a 16-time Paralympic medallist and six-time world championship medallist. She introduced Jones to wheelchair racing at a school sports day when Jones was 12 and has coached her ever since.
The transition from wheelchair racing to triathlon wasn’t an easy one, but Jones said her partnership with Grey-Thompson and Thompson, who is a coach for British Triathlon, made the transition as smooth as possible.
“I’d always wanted to try it, but ever since he’s been working with [British Triathlon] he’d always say good things.
“The transition’s gone really well and I’ve had a lot of support from both [Thompson and Grey-Thompson] and British Triathlon.
Jones competed in her first para triathlon at the Yokahama ITU World Series race in May 2017, winning a silver medal on debut.
One month later, she finished on top of the podium at the European Triathlon Union Championships, before winning silver again at the 2017 ITU World Triathlon Series Grand Final behind Australia’s Emily Tapp.
This time around, Jones claimed the gold over Tapp, one minutes and 49 seconds ahead of the Australian after overtaking her on the cycle leg and finishing in 1:11:07. Australian Lauren Parker, won bronze, just one year after suffering a spinal injury and becoming paralysed.
It was the victory Jones hoped for, but being so new to the sport, hadn’t counted on.
“I was hoping to come away with a win but nothing’s a given so I’m really happy,” she said.
The men’s para triathlon podium finish mirrored the women’s, with England’s Joe Townsend taking the gold and Australia’s Nic Beveridge and Bill Chaffey winning silver and bronze.
Jones’ husband Callum Hall will compete in the men’s T54 Marathon in his Games debut, after taking up wheelchair racing in 2014.
Most of Jones’ training has been focused on the triathlon, but fresh off her historic victory, she’s looking forward to taking on the Marathon course.
“It’s going to be a lot of rest over the next couple of days then pick it up going back into the Marathon. It’ll be a lot more chair work than I’ve been doing in the last year.
“A lot of my training’s been focused towards the Triathlon so you know, with me being so new I could make a lot of improvements over the last six months, so it will be interesting to see how the Marathon goes.
“Anything that happens in the Marathon is a bonus.”