Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Para-triathlete Lauren Steadman focused on enjoying Paralympics experience before gold medal

After a mistake cost her gold at Rio 2016, the silver medallist is back on track for Tokyo 2020 and shared with the Olympic Channel Podcast how she's mentally much more resilient.
By Chloe Merrell

Returning Paralympian Lauren Steadman heads to Japan as one of Great Britain’s medal hopes at Tokyo 2020, in 2021.

As recently as June this year, the 28-year-old showed she is on form and focused after she emerged triumphant at the AJ Bell 2021 World Triathlon Para Series.

Tokyo will mark Steadman’s fourth Paralympic outing, and she shared with Olympic Channel Podcast just what that meant to her.

The Briton, who was born without her lower right arm, competed at two Paralympic Games (Beijing 2008 and London 2012) as a swimmer, before she was persuaded by her uncle to switch to para-triathlon.

At Rio 2016, the sport made its debut, but Steadman’s race was far from what she had hoped it would be.

She left Brazil a silver medallist, but full of disappointment, knowing what might had been had things unfolded in her favour.

After an extra year of waiting Steadman, told us of how she's been preparing for an improved performance at Tokyo 2020.

Lauren Steadman: a heart-breaking mistake at Rio 2016

It was Steadman’s call not to participate in the optional practice swim the day before her first Paralympic triathlon event in Rio.

The pollution levels of the water and a desire to stay as healthy as possible for her race were her reasons.

Unfortunately for Steadman, it was a decision that ultimately backfired as during the swimming leg the para-athlete missed a crucial buoy. She was swimming in the wrong direction.

Steadman worked tooth and nail to rectify her race, ended the swim in second, and got herself back in front, but the extra effort took a toll in the final run leg, where Grace Norman of the United States came through to clinch the gold, leaving the Briton with silver.

“No one had really understood what had gone on. They expected me to come out first and I hadn’t,” Steadman explained to the Olympic Channel Podcast.

“It cost me the gold. So I was really, really, really disappointed.”

“I did, post-Rio, step back from sport and I found myself quite frustrated and angry.” – Lauren Steadman to the Olympic Channel Podcast

Lauren Steadman: Fresh mindset for Tokyo 2020

Redemption, after a gold-medal shaped mistake, can be all-consuming, but for Steadman that is far from what Tokyo 2020 is about.

After the raging heartbreak over a mistake that cost her the Paralympic title in Rio, she's worked hard on transforming her outlook for Tokyo.

“I actually think that the gold medal would be probably second on my objectives this time.”

Such was the emotional state that Steadman found herself in, even before her race and the subsequent error that derailed it, that the Briton was keen not to find herself in that position again.

“I want to love my race. I want to enjoy this process. I may not make the next Paralympics, I might not qualify so actually I want to enjoy wearing the kit, the process of flying out with the team, racing on the biggest stage there is at the Paralympics.

“That for me is what I’m holding highest. That actually, as I am in the world of pain in the race, to embrace every single aspect and love what I am doing.”

Lauren Steadman: Embracing new challenges and making discoveries

In between Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, it is safe to say that Steadman kept herself busy.

In the 2018 off-season the Paralympian starred in the popular British television show Strictly Come Dancing, where celebrities pair up with professional dancers and take to the floor to perform ballroom routines.

Steadman stayed in the show for a total of 16 weeks, making it all the way to the semi-final.

Then in 2020 she returned to the small screen for Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins; an altogether different kind of challenge where stars try to pass a unique version of the infamous British SAS Special Forces Selection test over nine days.

Both competitions challenged Steadman in different ways: one was loaded with glitz and glamour the other about pain and resilience.

Speaking about her experience on Celebrity SAS which she co-won, Steadman said:

“It showed me that actually mentally, that it’s very hard to break me.”

For more on Lauren Steadman's journey to Tokyo be sure to listen to the podcast in full right here.