CAIRNS, Australia – Aurélie Rivard of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., broke her own world record in the women’s 400-metre freestyle S10 as the Canadian team got off to a golden start at the 2018 Pan Pacific Para-Swimming Championships, which got under way Thursday in Cairns, Australia.
Rivard, a 22-year-old who trains out of CHP-Québec in Montreal with coach Mike Thompson, won the first final of the competition in 4 minutes, 29.27 seconds to lower her previous world standard of 4:29.96 set at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, where she reached the top of the podium three times.
“I was pleasantly surprised to break a world record because, mentally, I wasn’t really prepared for that,” said Rivard, who in the process successfully defended her 400 free title from the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships in Pasadena, California. “It was a near-perfect race and I’m really happy with the result, especially technically speaking.”
Thompson was equally pleased – but not quite as surprised – with his pupil’s performance.
“I thought Aurélie’s race was quite good. We’ve been talking all year about trying to instill some kind of confidence and belief. Coming here, she had been swimming great and she was getting ready to race fast,” said Thomson. “She seemed like she was nervous but relaxed tonight. Last thing we said was she has to believe that she can do it, and she told me she did. That’s kind of all there was to it, really.”
Four teammates joined Rivard in the winners’ circle as the evening progressed as the Canadian squad wrapped up Day 1 with five gold and two silver medals, along with two more national records.
“Before the meet we talked about the importance of getting off to a really good start. We’re traditionally slow starters into these meets so we really wanted to make sure that we got off on the right foot,” said Vince Mikuska, Senior Coach, Paralympic program. “Aurélie set the tone early with an outstanding world record. We followed that with more great 400-metre swims, some really impressive drops in times, and some solid racing in the 100 breaststrokes.”
In the second women’s final of the night, Angela Marina of Cambridge, Ont., was crowned in the 200 freestyle S14 thanks to a Canadian-record time of 2:16.70. The 19-year-old had also posted the best time in the morning preliminaries (2:17.78).
“I think the race went pretty well. I was pretty happy with it. My first 100 was the fastest I’ve ever gone and I ended up breaking the Canadian record. My morning swim was also very good. It’s the fastest I’ve ever gone in the morning. I know I can still improve and think this race will help make me stronger for next year.”
The women’s 100 breaststroke proved Canada’s best event of the day generating no less than three gold medals, courtesy of Justine Morrier of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu (SB14 – 1:24.49), Katarina Roxon of Kippens, Nfld. (SB8 – 1:25.86) and Tess Routliffe of Caledon, Ont. (SB7 – 1:32.71).
“It was a very good race. I wasn’t expecting to finish first because there was an Australian swimmer who posted the same time I did in the preliminaries,” said Morrier. “I’m really proud of myself. I slowed down a little with a few metres to go but I never gave up and I stay focused until the end of the race.”
“It was probably one of the best swims I’ve had all year,” added Roxon. “The first 50, I felt good. The last 50 was a little bit tougher but I pulled through and I think it’s the fastest time I’ve posted all year. It’s starting to look better for the rest of the year.”
Routliffe echoed her teammates’ feelings after completing the red and white hat-trick.
“It was a very solid race for me. It was the best time that I’ve ever done. I’ve been working really hard on the breaststroke this year and we’ve been able to compete a few times at it. It’s my third season best this year so I’m pretty pleased with it. I’m moving in the right direction.”
Canada’s medals on the men’s side both came in the 400 freestyle, with Philippe Vachon of Blainville, Que., and Alec Elliot of Kitchener, Ont., capturing silver in the S8 (4:37.61) and S10 (4:10.70) categories, respectively.
“I felt very good during my race. I really tried to get into my zone to be as focused as possible and try not to focus on the other swimmers because the race started really fast,” said Vachon, who also set a Canadian mark. “The more the race progressed, the more I could see I was catching up to the leaders so it encouraged me to go even faster, and then at the end it was the final sprint. I’m very happy.”
Canada’s Day 1 medal haul could have been even more impressive if not for a foursome of fourth-place finishes by Sabrina Duchesne of St-Augustin, Que. (women’s 400 free S7), Calgary’s Morgan Bird (women’s 400 free S8), Montreal’s Sarah Girard (women’s 100 breast SB9) and Danielle Kisser of Delta, B.C. (women’s 100 breast SB6).
Other Canadian results from Thursday’s finals included a fifth place by Shelby Newkirk of Saskatoon in the women’s 100 breast SB6, a sixth position by Zach Zona of Waterford, Ont., in the men’s 400 free S8 and a DQ by Matthew Cabraja of Brampton, Ont., in the men’s 400 free S11.
The 2018 Pan Pacific Para-swimming Championships continue through Monday at Tobruk Memorial Pool in Cairns. Finals begin at 5 p.m. local time every night (3 a.m. ET).
Full results available here: http://liveresults.swimming.org.au/SAL/2018PARP/