Rivard sets world record twice, wins Canada’s first gold in Tokyo
TOKYO – Aurélie Rivard captured Canada’s first gold medal of the Paralympic Games across all sports on Saturday thanks to a world record swim in the women’s 100-m freestyle S10 at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
It was the second podium finish of the meet for the native of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., who opened the competition on Wednesday with a bronze-medal performance in the 50 free. She now has seven medals across three Games appearances, including four gold, two silver and one bronze.
Rivard, who didn’t hide her disappointment on Day 1 after she failed to defend her 2016 title in the sprint event, simply wasn’t going to be denied on the two-length distance.
The 25-year-old first sent a clear message to her rivals in the morning heats with a world record time of 58.60 seconds, obliterating her own previous mark of 59.17 set at the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games by more than half a second.
She then shaved another 46 hundredths in the evening final when she touched the wall in 58.14, well ahead of Netherlands teammates Chantalle Zijderveld (1:00.23) and Lisa Kruger (1:00.68).
The medal race was still relatively close at the turn with Rivard clocking 28.44 and Zijderveld following in 28.85 but the Canadian proved too much for her competitors down the stretch.
“It’s probably one of the greatest swims of my life technically,” said Rivard, who trains at Club de Natation Région de Québec in Quebec City. “Today is even more special than it should be, winning gold, especially coming from kind of a failure from me on Day 1. I was expecting to win gold (in the 50 free), I’m not going to lie, and I didn’t. So to have been able to go through that and step up and give my best, especially with the year that we’ve had, with absolutely nothing in terms of competitions, it’s almost surreal that this moment is even happening. I just have a lot of emotions going through my head.”
Rivard knew coming into these Games she’d have a target on her back after claiming three titles at Rio 2016.
“Going into Rio, I was a very young 20-year-old who had everything to prove to the world but I didn’t have anything to lose either. So the pressure was really different. Now, I’ve established myself and I’m older, the girls next to me want to beat me. I find it a lot harder to maintain something than to chase a goal. It’s so different. It’s just a different mindset.
“I feel like I’m learning as I go through experiences. I had never come into a Paralympic Games as the person who the girls want to beat. Even though I don’t have anything to prove to myself anymore, I always want to perform and be the best that I can be, better than I ever was. And I don’t want to get beat. Now that I’ve experienced winning, there’s no going back for me.”
Rivard still has three individual events left on her schedule in the Japanese capital, starting with Wednesday’s 400 free, where she is also the reigning Paralympic champion and world record holder. Prior to those, she will be part of the women’s 4×100 free relay 34 points on Sunday.
Also competing in a final for Canada on Day 4 was three-time Paralympian Camille Bérubé of Gatineau, Que., who placed eighth in the women’s 100-m breaststroke SB6 in 1:44.07.
In the morning preliminaries, the 26-year-old from Natation Gatineau set a Canadian mark of 1:42.80, eclipsing the previous standard of 1:46.27 established back in 2013 by Tokyo 2020 teammate Danielle Kisser.
Great Britain’s Maisie Summers-Newton won gold in a Paralympic record time of 1:32.34. Rounding out the podium were world record holder Daomin Liu of China (1:33.30) and Sophia Herzog of the United States (1:36.06).
“My race was pretty good. I had a lot of fun. I definitely had to throw it all in the pool this morning. I knew how hard it was going to be to make the finals.
“I was a little bit slower tonight but I think it just shows that this is my fourth race in 48 hours, and the fatigue is definitely kicking in,” said Bérubé, who swam in her first career Paralympic final on Friday, taking fifth place in the 200 individual medley SM7.
Kisser, a 24-year-old from Delta, B.C., also competed in the women’s 100 breast SB6, finishing 10th in the morning heats in 1:49.04.
It marked the lone event of the Games for the first-time Paralympian, who trains at the High Performance Centre – Quebec in Montreal.
“It was just really incredible to be at my first Paralympic Games and to swim in this pool with such amazing athletes. This was the goal that I’ve always had for such a long time, to be a Paralympian, and I did that today so there’s nothing to be sad about with that. I’ve accomplished a dream and I’m pretty happy about it.”
Three other Canadians competed in preliminaries on Saturday.
While none of them joined Rivard and Bérubé in the evening session, their swims produced a national record and a pair of personal bests.
In the men’s 100-m backstroke S11, Matthew Cabraja of Brampton, Ont., missed the final by a single spot despite a new PB of 1:13.98 which left him 20 hundredths of a second behind Ukraine’s Oleksandr Artiukhov.
Racing for the third straight day, the 19-year-old from Cobra Swim Club had also placed ninth in the 50-m freestyle on Friday after reaching the final of the 400 free in his first career Paralympic Games event on Thursday, when he finished seventh.
“It was a really, really good race. I’m extremely happy with everything, how the race went, the strategy, the process. It was really good. I’m looking forward to the next five days to do some watching of swimming finals and do some preparation for the 100 fly (on Friday).”
In the women’s 150-m individual medley SM4, Tammy Cunnington of Red Deer, Alta., and Nikita Ens of Meadow Lake, Sask., both competing in their first event in Tokyo, placed 13th and 17th overall, respectively, with swims of 3:41.06 and 4:34.01.
With her time, Ens set a new Canadian mark for the SM3 class. The first-time Paralympian from Saskatoon Lasers Swim Club held the previous standard of 4:38.29 since 2019.
“My race was very good. It was really nerve-wracking being my first Paralympic race but there’s room for improvement and I’m excited to bring it tomorrow,” said Ens, who is set to take part in the 50 backstroke S3 on Day 5.
Cunnington, a veteran from Rio 2016 who trains at the Red Deer Catalina Swim Club, will be back in the pool on Tuesday for the 50 breast.
“The time wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I was working for more in that IM. I gave it all I had this morning but it wasn’t what I wanted. I have the 50 breaststroke in two days and I’ve been working on that for the IM, so now I’m going to focus on that and see what happens.
“Because it’s my second Games and I knew I was going to be in tough this time around I’m just really taking it all in and celebrating all it took for me to make it here.”
Wayne Lomas, Swimming Canada’s Associate High Performance Director and National Para Swimming Coach, was thrilled with Saturday’s performances.
“Aurélie tonight demonstrated the class, the poise and the fierce determination that are all hallmarks of a true champion in defending her 2016 title in the most definitive of fashions. Her peak performance tonight resulted in a personal best, a world record and a Paralympic gold medal. Full credit to Aurélie and Coach Marc-André Pelletier on how well they have planned for this performance on the night that matters.
“From a team perspective, there were many other outstanding performances in the pool today with Nikki, Matthew and Camille all swimming PB’s in the morning and, for Camille, reaching her second Paralympic Games final. Personal bests remain the goal of every swimmer, and it was wonderful to see four new best times achieved today. We also got to support Danielle in her Paralympic Games debut and Tammy gave her absolute all in her first race of these Games. It was quite a day.”
Full schedule and results:
Photos courtoisie du Comité paralympique canadien (à des fins éditoriales uniquement) : https://cdnparalympics.photoshelter.com/gallery-collection/Tokyo-2020/C0000_JK7r6z
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