By Leo Harland, Sport Subeditor
Michael Taylor, a second year Bristol medical student, competes in his first Paralympics in a bid to win PTS4 paratriathlon gold on Friday night.
In the midst of Olympic and Paralympic season, viewers often hear about the remarkable background stories of each athlete involved. Taylor’s is no exception to the rule, albeit possibly a slightly shorter journey than others.
Despite having only received a running blade two days prior to his first paratriathlon in 2017, Michael’s immediate talent was noticeable. He finished the race in second place. Fast forward to 2021, and he enters the Paralympics with great success: a two-time GBR Paratriathlon National Champion with podium finishes at ITU Paratriathlon World Cups.
In the most recent of these, a silver medal at the 2021 World Triathlon Para Series Yokohama, he swam the fastest in the field and had the third fastest bike leg behind the Frenchman Alexis Hanquiquant and American Jamie Brown, both competitors he aims to better in the early Tokyo hours of Saturday morning.
Yet before 2016, Taylor had envisioned none of this. After having an amputation below the knee to stop a prolonged joint infection, he was forced to rethink and re-adapt his love for sports.
‘I missed being able to compete in team sports such as water polo and rugby which is why I decided to take up triathlon. The social side of sports helped me to regain confidence and develop a new sense of myself.’
Yet, where the social dynamic of sport may have lacked recently due to lockdown, Taylor fortunately found ways to continue his progress to achieve his dream of competing at Tokyo 2021. In the home-bound months of 2020, Taylor travelled back to his family in north Devon where he could cycle on empty roads and, in the summer months, freely swim in the sea.
Taylor looks back on those months as a positive: ‘Having that extra time to really focus on certain aspects without any interruption has been really beneficial, and I do feel a lot fitter and that I’ve improved hugely.’
These positives are also shared by Paratriathlon head coach Jonny Riall: ‘For the most part, the consistency of training and simplicity of a life of fewer distractions has led to the standard going up.’
The paratriathlon made its Paralympics debut at Rio 2016 and huge GB success followed. Andy Lewis won PT2 gold and further silver and bronze medals were won by Lauren Steadman, Alison Patrick and Melissa Reid.
Despite no live broadcast celebrating these achievements, Taylor was inspired by these successes and later applied for the Tri4Tokyo event at Loughborough University in 2017. He was given place on the talent programme that followed this, all whilst studying physiotherapy at Cardiff University.
No doubt that the increased coverage from Channel 4 of the Paralympics will spur Taylor on towards success. Yet, as he joins the paratriathlon team of seven, including three guides, he seems to have already accomplished his goals that he set at the start of his paratriathlete career: to develop a new sense of himself and regain confidence. Anything extra on Friday is a bonus.
Clearly, he has followed his own advice: ‘Surround yourself with positive people and give yourself goals to strive towards. Keep active and do something you love. Swimming feels like freedom to me.’
Featured Image : British Triathlon
You can watch Michael competing in the Paralympics in Tokyo in the PTS4 Paratriathlon at 22:30 BST Friday 27 August