For Ireland’s Katie-George Dunlevy, an extra year of sacrifice, sweat and pain compressed into an emphatic final sprint to victory on a rain-soaked Fuji International Speedway in Japan.
Through grit and smiles, Dunlevy and pilot Eve McCrystal left no doubt in winning the Paralympic Women’s B Road Race in a time of 2:35:53 for their third medal of these games, and another gold in the column of Team LGBTQ. The duo also completed a sweep of the road cycling events in Tokyo. On Tuesday, they pushed to win a second straight Paralympic gold in the Women’s B Time Trial.
Great Britain’s team of Sophie Unwin and Jenny Holl, who defeated the Irish in the road race at the UCI World Para Cycling Championships in June, won silver. Sweden’s Louise Jannering and pilot Anna Svaerdstroem held on for the bronze.
Afterwards, Dunlevy couldn’t contain her pride and glee.
“The road race is my favorite and I’ve always wanted to win that at the Paralympics,” she said in a post-race interview with RTE Sport. “In London, I was fifth in the road race, and then I got silver in Rio. To win it in Tokyo is a dream come true.”
Her dream was realized in a 7-lap, 92.4-kilometer (57.41-mile) drama through the second straight day of heavy rains.
Dunlevy and McCrystal held the lead through the first lap. On lap two, the Swedish team of Jannering and Svaerdstroem seized the initiative and pushed to the front on the 13.2-kilometer combination public road-race track circuit.
“The Swedish were really technically very good and on the downhills we were losing ground to them,” Dunlevy noted. “If they went ahead of us, we had to use a lot of effort to get it back. It was a lot of on-off efforts and it was really draining as the laps went on.”
The middle portion of the race was a tense, tactical fight. Amidst the developing chess game, Dunlevy and McCrystal were also battling the weather.
“As a pilot I found that course so stressful in the rain,” McCrystal told RTE Sport. “We were losing ground on the descent. The climb I found tough because of the on-off during the race.”
The top three were racing nearly two minutes ahead of the field at the start of the final lap. The green-clad Dunlevy-McCrystal team took the lead over their British rivals in the second lap, with the Swedish team right behind them. They would spend most of the lap swapping the lead in their final push for gold.
In the last two kilometers, Dunlevy and McCrystal found an opportunity to push to win on the final uphill approach toward the speedway.
“There was a chance there and we just had to take it. That was to attack really on that last climb coming in,” Dunlevy said. “We did, and we got a gap, and I just can’t believe it held off to the line.”
This gold medal was also an exclamation point on the last year of their lives. During he COVID lockdown, Dunlevy moved in with the McCrystal family in Ireland.
Leading up to the race, they both pushed through long stints of training in Portugal and Spain. After narrow defeats in the time trial and the road race at UCI Worlds, they avenged both losses at the Paralympics, in addition to the silver medal they won in the Paralympic velodrome last week.
Their smiles tell the story. The rewards were worth the sacrifice.