By Gary Anderson

gary andersonWhen Britain's Jimmy Goddard lines up for the start of the Paratriathlon event at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, it will be 12 years since the former army commando's life changed forever.

The glorious setting of Rio's Copacabana Beach, which will stage the Olympic and Paralympic triathlon competitions in 2016, will be a world away from the colder, damper environs of the Welsh mountains where, in 2004, Goddard was left paralysed from the waist down following a climbing accident.

A talented able bodied triathlete before his accident, it is not inconceivable that the man from Bracknell, Berkshire would have been lining up alongside the Brownlee brothers - Alastair and Jonathan - and taking to the warm Atlantic waters that dance along the sandy shore of this iconic stretch of Brazilian coastline, as part of the British triathlon squad.

copacabana beachRio's iconic Copacabana beach will provide a stunning backdrop to the Olympic triathlon and Paratriathlon events

However, dwelling on the past and wondering what might have been is not something that occupies much of Goddard's time. Perhaps, it is something to do with his military background, but he is most certainly a man of action, and he believes that his time in the army has given him an edge over many of his competitors when it comes to competing.

"Coming from a commando background, you are used to having a very active, motivated, outdoor life if you like, so this is probably the closest I will get to that," he told insidethegames.

"It probably gives me an advantage over other athletes in the fact that you have confidence in your own abilities, because you've really pushed yourself right to the edge on the commando selection course so you know exactly what you can do, how hard you can push yourself, how to motivate yourself.

"I think this does give you an advantage over a sportsman that perhaps has never motivated himself or pushed himself hard to achieve something. So in that sense, yes, but you know I'd be doing a disservice to a lot of sports people if I said they don't know how to take themselves right to the limit of their capabilities, because most of them performing at the highest level do and have learned that through training and competing." 

Jimmy GoddardJimmy Goddard has competed in every British Paratriahlon National Championships since the inaugural event in Rotherham in 2008

A talented rugby player, Goddard won a swimming scholarship to Millfield Junior School in Somerset, whose past pupils include Olympic swimming gold medallist Duncan Goodhew and Paralympic sprinter John McFall, who won bronze at Beijing 2008.

"When I was a kid at school I was a rugby player, and when I left school it became hard to continue with a team sport, as I went into an office job for a while, because you can't commit to training three evenings a week and weekends because you're off doing things," said the former Royal Artillery soldier.

"I was looking for a sport to build onto with swimming and running at its core, so triathlon was very appealing to me. I took up triathlon at age 19 and I've been doing it ever since. I've competed for Sandhurst and swam for the Army. I did it as an able bodied athlete.

"So as soon as I had my accident, within 12 months I did my first Paratriathlon. I just swam the 1,500 metres, borrowed a hand-bike to do the 40 kilometres hand-bike stage, pushed 10k on my everyday chair, so I didn't use a specialist wheelchair. It was a long way."

And, parartriathlon has come a long way too.

Up against badminton, basketball for athletes with an intellectual disability, golf, powerchair football and taekwondo, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced on December 11, 2010, ahead of the 10th Asian Para Games in Guangzhou, China that along with Paracanoeing, paratriathlon had been added to the list of sports for Rio 2016.

This represented a culmination of years of development and campaigning by the International Triathlon Union (ITU) to gain Paralympic status for the sport. Able bodied triathletes first competed at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, and although it will have been 16 years later, when their Paratriathlete counterparts will experience the feeling of being a Games athlete for the first time in Rio, the sport of Paratriathlon has been transformed, particularly since the turn of the century.

The introduction of World Championships, European and North American Championships along with other international and regional events that take place at the same time as the triathlon competitions has led to an increase in exposure for Paratriathlon and its athletes.

This exposure has resulted in a surge in athletes taking part in the sport, which in turn, sees the competitive standard at each event continually rising, along with spectator interest.

Jimmy won a swimming scholarship to Millfield Junior school and was also a talented rugby playerJimmy Goddard won a swimming scholarship to Millfield Junior school and was also a talented rugby player before embarking on his military career

And nowhere is that interest in paratriathlon more passionate than in Britain, according to British Paratriathlon programme manager Jonathan Riall, who points out that Britain became the first country in the world to hold a National Paratriathlon Championships in 2008, which took place at the Rother Valley Country Park.

Riall has worked with British Triathlon - which is made up of the national associations of Triathlon England, Triathlon Scotland and Welsh Triathlon - for a number of years before becoming Partriathlon performance manager in 2009. It was around this time that the sport's move to join the Paralympic programme was gaining momentum and Riall says that Britain played a crucial role in its successful bid.

"One of the key features when I first took over was that we knew that internationally [the ITU] were going to try and bid for the sport to become a Paralympic sport," he told insidethegames. "They were collecting a lot of evidence and that was submitted in the middle of 2010 and by October 2010 we were informed that along with canoeing we were one of the sports chosen to be included in Rio 2016.

"It was the ITU who had officially pulled that bid together and I would say at that time British Triathlon were pretty fundamental in supporting the ITU and collecting the evidence that was needed."

Paratriathlon has also got a strong base in the US and Canada - the chairman of the ITU Paratriathlon committee is Canadian Grant Darby, and along with Britain, these nations were major players in the ITU's successful Paralympic bid. 

But the balance of power in Paratriathlon is shifting across the Atlantic to Europe, according to Riall, who completed a degree in Sports and Exercise Development at the University of Sunderland in 2005.

"In the early days, the US and Canada were two very important nations in terms of that they had National Championships as well, and had athletes taking part," said Riall.

"But now, Europe has become a driving force really. America and Canada are still dominant on that side of the world but, we've just come back from our European Championships and there are fifteen or sixteen nations in Europe that all have structured programmes and their athletes have support staff. You can't really say that about anywhere else in the world. Spain, Germany, France and Holland have very quickly pushed their levels up as well."

However, Goddard, 36, is in no doubt that Paratriahtlon's status as a Paralympic sport would not have been achieved without the efforts of Riall and British Triathlon.

"Johnny Riall and British Triathlon were integral to [Paratriathlon's successful bid for Rio 2016]. They took it from grassroots participation and turned it into a high performance competitive sport, with some support from the ITU," he said. "I think the ITU wanted to do it, but Johnny Riall and British Triathlon did it so well in Britain that the ITU looked at them as a model of how they could do it in different countries."

Jimmy sees Joe Townsend as one of his biggest rivals for medals in RIOJimmy Goddard says British teammate Joe Townsend is one of his biggest rivals for medals at Rio 2016

Goddard has been an ever present part of that "model" in Britain from the start. The 36-year-old has competed at every British Paratriathlon Championships since 2008, winning gold in Nottingham in 2009, as well as adding a silver medal to his collection in the same year at the European Triathlon Union (ETU) Paratriathlon European Championships in Holten, Netherlands.

"I did my first triathlon as a wheelchair user in the summer of 2005 and there were three of us there with chairs, bikes and swimming. The other two had been doing it a couple of years already, and it was just a case of turn up and do an event. It wasn't a disabled sport," he said.

"From there, there was something called Project Viper which was about organising it into a visually impaired sport. So, I hooked onto the back of them and then there was a kind of drive within Britain to make triathlon more accessible to disabled people. It still wasn't a British sport per se; it was just a drive to get disabled people into triathlon on whatever level. I was involved in that."

JIMMY 1 Jimmy crosses the line in Hyde Park at the 2011 ITU World Championship Series World SeriesJimmy Goddard crosses the line during an ITU World Championship Series event in Hyde Park, where he will be aiming for a medal at this years World Championships in September

At the 2013 ETU Paratriathlon European Championships, held in Alanya, Turkey on June 14 to 16, an unfortunate crash during the final wheelchair stage deprived Goddard of the chance to finish in the medal positions in the TRI1 class, which saw teammates Phil Hogg and Joe Townsend claim gold and bronze respectively. British Paratriathletes dominated the event, coming away with six gold, four silver and two bronze medals overall, in the men's and women's categories.

And Goddard is pretty confident that the British squad, under the guidance of head coach Steve Casson, can continue that domination at the upcoming 2013 ITU Parartriathlon World Championships in London's Hyde Park in September, and looking further ahead, at Rio 2016.

Earlier this year, British Triathlon announced the 13 athletes that will make up its world class Paratriathlon squad, which included Goddard, and will see athletes receiving direct funding from UK Sport as part of the performance programme building up to Rio 2016.

Riall, the man in charge of overseeing the running of the programme and athlete selection, says that its ultimate goal is to ensure that Britain maintains its position as one of the top nations in Parartiathlon and translates that into Paralympic medals in Rio, where athletes will complete a 750m swim, 20km cycle and 5km run over the Paralympic course.

"From the time the sport got Paralympic status in 2010, there was a definite focus needed to ensure that as a British team, that has been a very successful one, that we prepared ourselves for the next six years and to make sure that we had both athletes and staff alike who were competent and of the right standard," he said. "[The funding] is ultimately there to support a programme through to Rio. What that means is as a sport we have been given an outline amount of funding for the four year programme.

"The process that we are in at the moment is that our classification system for Rio is not yet confirmed, so UK Sport will review the programme on a yearly basis and hopefully by the time we get through to our review at the end of September or October this year, our classification system will be confirmed and we can basically sort of firm up the athletes who are on our programme, based on those athletes who will obviously be competitive in 2016."

Jimmy in actionThe ITU is set to announce details of a new classification system for paratriathlon in the coming months - Jimmy Goddard currently competes in the TRI1 class

The ITU is set to announce details of the new Paratriahtlon classification system for Rio 2016 in the coming months, which will see the number of classes reduced from six to four for both men and women in order to fit in with the Paralympic programme.

"I am pretty hopeful that I will be competitive within my classification and that I will be a strong contender for a medal in Rio," said Goddard, who currently competes in the TRI1 class which is for wheelchair users including paraplegics, quadriplegics, athletes with polio, double leg amputees and athletes with disabilities that prevent the safe use of a conventional bicycle. Athletes must use a hand cycle on the bike course and racing wheelchair on the run stage.

"Paratriathlon is all about classifications so you can't really make predictions until you know where you are within the classification system and you know who you're up against. I think there is a very strong chance of having a Briton on the podium. I would say there is a 90 per cent chance in all classifications, both male and female because at the moment we have probably got the most successful squad in the world."

Goddard and the rest of the British squad are next in action at the British Triathlon Championships in Liverpool city centre on July 13 and 14.

Gary Anderson is a reporter for insidethegames.