Bourne Town Harriers athlete Claire Steels (28) is a duathlon world champion - just 10 months after taking up the sport.
The self-employed personal trainer struck gold in the ladies’ 25-29 year-old age group at the ITU (International Triathlon Union) World Sprint Championships in Adelaide, Australia, during the early hours of Sunday morning.
It was Claire’s first outing for Great Britain and she covered the 5km run, 20km cycle and 2.5km run in 1.06.21, good enough for tenth place overall in the ladies’ sprint duathlon race overall won by Australia’s Nicky Western. Claire, a former Bourne Grammar School student, was followed home by Harriet Enoch in second and Rebecca York who came third.
“It’s mental that I actually won and I refused to believe it until I saw the results myself,” Claire said.
“Bringing home the 1-2-3 was amazing as well because, at heart, I’m a team player and so it’s wonderful to be able to share it with my fellow GB athletes.
“I felt pretty good going into the race as I’ve work hard on my cycling and thanks to my coach Mark Griffin, I’ve improved so much and so I was feeling confident about my cycling.
“Plus I’d covered the course a few times in training during the week leading up to the race, so I knew it suited me and the training Mark set for me.
“As for my running, my times have got a lot quicker since I started working with Sean Beard at the Embankment running track in Peterborough so I knew if I could run to my full potential, I stood a chance.”
Claire, who only took up duathlon after playing hockey and netball, was right behind Harriet at the end of the first run.
But a slightly quicker transition phase to the bike ride paved the way for her to take just over 90 seconds out of her rival, setting up the glory run on the final leg.
I refused to believe I’d won until I saw the results myself and it was made even more special as I was able to share the podium with two other British girlsClaire Steels, ITU Duathlon Female Age Group (25-29) Sprint World Champion
“It was a tough race and I had to work hard on the first run to stay in a good position,” Claire said.
“I felt really strong on the bike and loved the bike course which I was so lucky to have been able to ride because the views were incredible.
“I came off the bike with a good lead and managed to maintain that over the last run, so I finished 1 minute 33 seconds ahead of second place.
“It was amazing to win but it was made even more special because I was able to share the podium with two other British girls.
“I’m so happy my hard work has paid off and I have to thank my coaches Mark and Sean for all their help on the bike and at the running track.
“I wouldn’t have qualified without them and I certainly wouldn’t be bringing home the gold medal.”
Claire’s victory has been greeted with jubilation on social media, including close friend and Team GB triathlete Abi Schofield of Nene Valley Harriers who said: “Claire’s a champ and I’m so happy for her.
“I’ve never been so proud of anyone and I can’t wait to celebrate with Claire Steels, you absolute legend.”
Next for Claire as a brief but well-earned holiday in Sydney before the hard work starts again on the cross country course and in the saddle.
“My friends and family offer me so much support and encouragement,” Claire said.
“I wouldn’t be able to do this without them and I am looking forward to coming home and celebrating with them.
“Bourne Town Harriers are a wonderful running club and I’m really looking forward to the cross country season and racing for them.
“My love for running comes from having trained with them from such a young age and so I’ll hitting the cross country season hard.
“I’ve also got some great sponsors like Sealskinz who provide me with kit which means i can train all year round and Vital Recruitment who’ve offered me financial support to help cover the costs of my flights.
“I’m so happy that I can bring home the gold medal to show them it’s all been worthwhile.”