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TOKYO – Powered by a lightning-fast final leg by individual world record holder Aurélie Rivard, the Canadian women captured bronze in the 4×100-m freestyle relay – 34 points, Sunday, on the fifth day of swimming competition at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
 
It marked Canada’s first relay medal in swimming at the Games since a second-place finish in the same event back in 2004, and the country’s fourth at the pool so far in Tokyo, including one gold, one silver and two bronze.
 
On Sunday evening, the Canadians originally placed fifth but were upgraded to third when both the United States, which had touched first, and Great Britain were disqualified.
 
Italy was awarded gold after clocking four minutes, 24.85 seconds, followed by Australia (4:26.82) and the foursome of Morgan Bird (High Performance Centre – Quebec) of Calgary, Katarina Roxon (Aqua Aces Swim Club) of Kippens, N.L., Sabrina Duchesne (Club de natation Rouge et Or) of Saint-Augustin, Que., and Rivard (Club de Natation Région de Québec) of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., in 4:30.40.
 
Rivard, who on Saturday won the individual 100 free in a world record time of 58.60, swam a ridiculous 58.10 in the fourth leg of the relay final after jumping into the pool in sixth position, well behind the leaders, some of which had already made the 350-metre turn.
 
Bird, a three-time Paralympian, and Duchesne, a veteran from Rio 2016, collected their first career Paralympic medals, while Roxon, competing in her fourth Games, was the 2016 champion in the 100 breaststroke SB8.
 
Rivard and Roxon were part of the 34-point relay that earned bronze at the London 2019 world championships.
 
“The race was pretty exciting, it was a lot of fun,” said Rivard, who opened the Tokyo meet on Wednesday with bronze in the 50 free and now has eight medals (4-2-2) across three Paralympic Games appearances. “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.”
 
Bird, an S8 swimmer, kicked off the final for Canada with a 1:11.66 leg, followed by Roxon (S9) in 1:06.91 and Duchesne (S7) in 1:13.73.
 
“It was my debut at this Games, my first race in the water and it felt amazing,” said Bird. “It was a thrill and a roller coaster ride. My first Paralympic medal with these girls, I wouldn’t want to stand on the podium any other way. It was amazing and I’m thrilled to share it with them.”
 
In other Day 5 action, all three Canadians who advanced to the evening session set national records during the day, either in the morning heats or finals.
 
In the women’s 400-m freestyle S7, Duchesne made the most out of her first career individual Paralympic final, placing fifth in 5:20.50 seconds.
 
The 20-year-old lowered her personal best of 5:21.83 – achieved in the S8 class at 2017 Canadian championships – and smashed her own previous Canadian S7 record of 5:29.21 set at the 2019 Nationals.
 
Duchesne got off to a strong start and was third at the 100-metre split. She dropped to fifth at the midway mark of the race and maintained her position until the end.   
 
McKenzie Coan of the United States claimed gold in 5:05.84, with Giulia Terzi of Italy (5:06.32) and Julia Gaffney of the USA (5:11.89) rounding out the podium.
 “The race was good. It was a good time, a best time. We haven’t raced in so long. After the year we had, I’m really happy with that,” said Duchesne, whose second and final individual event of the Games, the 100 freestyle, is set for Tuesday. “Hopefully another final in the 100 free. I’ll do my best.”
 
In the men’s 100-m breaststroke SB14, Nicholas Bennett (HPC-Quebec) of Parksville, B.C., also finished fifth thanks to a 1:06.94 swim, just off the national mark of 1:06.73 he set in the heats to qualify fourth.  
 
The youngest Canadian athlete competing in the Japanese capital at only 17 years of age, Bennett has posted Canadian record times in each of his first three events at the Games, including his first career Paralympic final on Friday, when he took sixth place in the 200 free. He will wrap up his busy Tokyo 2020 program on Tuesday with the 200 individual medley.
 
In the 100 breast final, Bennett was fifth at the turn in 31:00 and couldn’t quite make up ground coming back, finishing seven hundredths of a second behind Vasyl Krainyk of Ukraine.     
 
Japan’s Naohide Yamaguchi triumphed in 1:03.77, a new world record. He was followed at the wall by Australia’s Jake Michel (1:04.28) and Great Britain’s Scott Quin (1:05.91).
 
In the men’s 50-m freestyle S13, Nicolas-Guy Turbide (Club de Natation Région de Québec) of Quebec City matched his result from Rio 2016 with an eighth-place finish in 24.59.
 
The 24-year-old was just a tad slower than in the morning session, when he qualified eighth with a time 24.54, almost half a second under his own previous national standard of 24.97 achieved at the 2019 worlds.
 
This was the second and last event of the Games for the two-time Paralympian, who claimed silver in the 100 backstroke on Thursday to better his bronze-medal performance from 2016. 
 
Belarusian superstar Ihar Boki, who edged Turbide in the 100 back, defended his Rio title in the 50 free thanks to a Paralympic record time of 23.21, a mere .01 off his own world mark. Ukrainian teammates Illia Yaremenko (23.70) and Maksym Veraska (23.83) took silver and bronze.
 
Three other Canadians, all first-time Paralympians, were in action in the morning heats.
 
In the women’s 50-m backstroke S3, Nikita Ens (Saskatoon Lasers Swim Club) of Meadow Lake, Sask., and 18-year-old Aly Van Wyck-Smart (Variety Village) of Toronto finished ninth and 12th, respectively, in 1:10.82 and 1:23.30.
 
Ens’ time was a personal best by almost four seconds, just off the Canadian record of 1:10.37 set a year ago by Van Wyck-Smart, who was swimming in her first career Paralympic Games race.
 
Meanwhile, in the women’s 100-m breaststroke S14, Angela Marina (Brantford Aquatic Club) of Cambridge, Ont., placed 13th in 1:27.61, missing her personal best by only 16 hundredths of a second. 
 
Wayne Lomas, Swimming Canada’s Associate High Performance Director and National Para Swimming Coach, was all smiles following the final session.
 
“Another great day for our team, with four more personal bests. Nikki, Nicholas, Nicolas-Guy and Sabrina all achieving peak performance. Add to this, our women’s 34-point relay team was simply outstanding. That relay won a medal in London 2019 and they were determined to repeat that performance. By keeping composed and sticking to their plan, they did that.  
 
“I’d also like to pay special credit to Coach Mike Thompson who did an outstanding job of preparing the team for the race, a race where each lady rose to the occasion. To see each of these swimmers stand up and perform is a testament to their talent and to their ability to stick to the plans developed by their coaches.”
 
Full schedule and results:
https://olympics.com/tokyo-2020/paralympic-games/en/results/swimming/paralympic-schedule-and-results-date=2021-08-29.htm
 
 
Photos courtoisie du Comité paralympique canadien (à des fins éditoriales uniquement) : https://cdnparalympics.photoshelter.com/gallery-collection/Tokyo-2020/C0000_JK7r6z31OA