Canadian wheelchair racer Brent Lakatos nearly retired after the Beijing Paralympics, but the pull of a medal proved too strong.
That was 13 years and three Games ago. Now the 41-year-old from Dorval, Que., has a whopping nine Paralympic medals, capturing his second silver in Tokyo in the 400 metres on Sunday — and the busy track athlete still has four races to go.
“I didn’t really ever think (nine medals) would be possible,” Lakatos said, in the car ride back to the athletes village on Sunday. “I was considering retiring after Beijing, and my wife (Paralympic long jumper Stefanie Reid of Great Britain) and I, we decided to go for one more to try and get a medal, try to get one medal.
“That was my goal going into London (in 2012). I thought I’d retire after London, I thought I’d retire after Rio (2016) and somehow I’m still here and that number is slowly growing. And so, it doesn’t really seem real but yeah, it’s nice.”
Lakatos, who won silver in the 5,000 only a day earlier, crossed on Sunday in a personal best and Canadian record of 46.75 seconds. But he was disappointed to lose gold and his world record to Pongsakorn Paeyo. The Thai athlete won in 46.61, smashing Lakatos’s world mark of 47.34 set in 2019.
“I know I should be happy with the result and I will be soon,” Lakatos said. “But right now, I’m frustrated because I thought that what I did, I thought that would be good enough for a gold. I really wanted to bring home a gold after the silver (Saturday). And it was just short today. So, I’m a little frustrated at the moment.”
Also Sunday, Canada’s Stefan Daniel raced to bronze in the men’s triathlon, and the women’s 4×100-metre freestyle relay team of Aurelie Rivard, Morgan Bird, Katarina Roxon and Sabrina Duchesne won bronze. The relay medal was the fourth in swimming for Canada in Tokyo, and Rivard’s third.
Canada has 11 medals through five days of competition. China leads the way with 103.
Lakatos suffered a blood clot in his spine after sliding into the boards while playing hockey at the age of six. He played wheelchair basketball for the University of Texas, where he studied engineering, and then qualified for the 2004 Athens Paralympics in track despite switching to wheelchair racing only eight months earlier.
Since his decision to stick around after Beijing, Lakatos has become one of Canada’s most decorated Paralympians — and he shows no signs of slowing down.
“I guess my secret is that I’ve stayed relatively injury-free throughout my career, and so that’s allowed me to just keep on training,” said Lakatos, who lives in Loughborough, England. “And I’m really proud that I’ve been able to PB (set personal best times) most years of my career … be able to keep PB’ing at 41, I think that’s good. So, I don’t know that there’s any secret. Just stay healthy.”
While Lakatos initially carved his path to medal podium in the sprint events, he’s become a major contender in the distance races as well. His 5,000 silver was his first in a distance event, and coming off a victory at the London Marathon a few months ago, he’ll race that event in Tokyo as well.
Lakatos still has the 100, 800 and 1,500 — including heats and finals in each — before finishing with Sunday’s marathon in Tokyo.
Wheelchair racers are capable of competing in more races per meet than able-bodied runners, Lakatos said, because the muscles in the arms are smaller and so recover faster. He also credited Athletics Canada’s coaching and medical staff for his recovery each night.
In triathlon, Daniel, a 24-year-old from Calgary, battled sweltering 30 C heat to take third over a course that includes a 750-metre swim, 20-kilometre bike ride, and five-kilometre run, in 59 minutes 22 seconds.
Daniel captured silver in the event at the 2016 Rio Games and has four world titles over the past five years, and so was intent on claiming gold in Tokyo. His first reaction to bronze, he said, was disappointment.
“But honestly, these are the best guys in the world and there is no room for error so I’m pretty proud of my efforts today,” said Daniel, who was born with bilateral radial club hands. “I gave absolutely everything I had on the day and that was good enough for bronze. I absolutely had to earn that bronze today.”
“It hurts winning (world titles) and then not at the Paralympics, but I will cherish this and I’m really motivated to keep it going here,” added Daniel. “I have my work cut out for me towards Paris (2024 Paralympics), but right now I’m just going to enjoy this the best I can.”
Paralympic rookie Kamylle Frenette of Dieppe, N.B., raced to fourth in the women’s race, taking one step over the finish line before collapsing in an exhausted heap.
The 25-year-old pharmacy student has been a front-line worker during the COVID-19 pandemic, administering vaccinations in Nova Scotia, while keeping up her training in preparation for Tokyo.
“I’m really happy. I gave it my all and emptied the tank completely,” Frenette said. “I think it is normal for high performance athletes to always want more and I’m no different. I want more, but I’m also definitely really happy with today.”
In the pool, Rivard, a 25-year-old from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., had a blistering anchor leg to lead the Canadian relay to fifth. They were upgraded to bronze after the U.S. and Great Britain were disqualified.
“The race was pretty exciting, it was a lot of fun,” said Rivard, who has eight medals in her three Paralympics. “It was a nice moment to share with the girls, I’m really proud of them, and I’m also really happy to have contributed to Morgan and Sabi’s first Paralympic medals.”
Rivard has three individual races still to swim in Tokyo.
Canada’s sitting volleyball team picked up its first win of the Games, a 3-1 (25-16, 25-14, 15-25, 25-18) victory over Italy.
“That’s the volleyball we want to be playing. We knew we could improve on some areas of our game play and we did that today,” said coach Nicole Ban. “I’m proud of the resiliency this group showed and we are ready to carry the momentum forward.”
Heidi Peters of Neerlandia, Alta., led Canada (1-1) in scoring with 34 points.
Next up is Japan on Wednesday.
The Canadian men’s wheelchair basketball team picked up its first win of the tournament Sunday, a 74-64 win over South Korea.
Patrick Anderson of Fergus, Ont., led with 29 points while Nik Goncin of Regina added 23.
On the women’s side, Tamara Steves of Mississauga, Ont., put up 17 points as Canada downed Australia 76-37.
The women finish the preliminary round second in their group with a 3-1 record and will face the U.S. in the quarterfinals Tuesday.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press