Croatia’s First Paralympic Triathlete Antonio Franko Finishes 5th in Tokyo!

Daniela Rogulj

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It was the premiere performance of a Croatian triathlete in the history of the Paralympic Games, reports

The triathlon was held in Odaiba Marine Park, and Franko achieved a result of 1:05.49 after 750 meters of swimming, 20 km of cycling, and 5 km of running, 5:51 minutes behind the winner, France’s Alexis Hanquinquant.

In second was Japan’s Hideki Uda (+3.47), while the bronze was won by Spain’s Alejandro Sanchez (+4.26). In front of Franko was China’s Jiacho Wang (+4.56).

“I can be satisfied with 5th place; I did my best, at this moment, I couldn’t do better. From the beginning to the end, there was a big fight,” said the 28-year-old triathlete from Kraljevica, a member of Rijeka’s Rival Club.

Franko was fifth after the swimming section, with only two seconds behind third-place. He cycled between 5th and 7th to break through to the fifth place in the last section, which he kept until the end.

Due to the high heat, the start of the race was at 6:30 am. The temperature was already around 29 degrees Celsius with 80 percent humidity.

“The water was hot, about 28, 29 degrees, so during the first lap on the bike, I was still looking for and chasing the feeling. After that, I started running great; I immediately passed the American, I started to step up, but unfortunately, after the second lap, I slipped and fell. My prosthesis tilted a little; after that, I couldn’t strengthen it anymore, but I kept it from breaking completely so that I wouldn’t have to give up.”

Antonio, born with fibular aplasia of the right knee, i.e., a shortening of the leg by 6 cm, won a spot in Tokyo by collecting points in the past two years. 

“It was tough to get a place among the top 10 who competed in Tokyo. Until the last moment, no one was safe except Hanquinquant. After that, everyone else could be eliminated until the last race,” he said, adding that he enjoyed his first Paralympic performance.

“The feeling was fantastic, like no other race. I really enjoyed it from start to finish.”

Franko added that even before the race, it was known who would win the gold. The Frenchman could only be stopped on the way to victory by an accident. At one point, he even fell while running, but everything went smoothly, and in the end, the three-time world and three-time European champion celebrated.

“We stayed up there somewhere, we all beat each other, depending on the race, but no one has beaten him for four years. He dominates and is really a class above,” said Franko, who won the first medal in the paratriathlon, a bronze medal, in 2017 at the World Cup in Altafulla, Spain. His greatest success was the bronze medal at the 2019 European Championships in Valencia.

Franko has been in parasport for 19 years, and our most trophy-winning Paralympian, Milka Milinović, played a big role in that.

“As a kid, I was in swimming, then boxing, so I didn’t see myself in parasport. But Milka kept persuading me. Finally, at 19, I decided to give it a try, and after a year in para-swimming, I started with the para-triathlon.”

Franko is currently graduating from the Faculty of Kinesiology and is also the fitness coach for the footballers and basketballers of Kraljevica, of course when the time allows because training is a priority.

Coach Hrvoje Vlahović was also satisfied with his performance.

“I am satisfied that Franko won 5th place. We expected a fight between second and seventh place. This is the first time we have had a triathlete at the Paralympic Games. This is the first time that Antonio has competed in such a big competition in full readiness because he was injured at the last world championship and could not show how much he is worth,” said Vlahović.

“Among the top ten triathletes, Franko was fifth, and I don’t think we have anything to regret,” he added.

Vlahović pointed out that the track was speedy.

“It was a relatively simple track, and there were no big climbs, but technically there were a couple of sharp bends on the bike section where you had to be careful. But all in all, it was a fast track,” Vlahović stressed.

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