LONDON – In the end, James Leroux’s long wait was well worth it. Competing in his lone individual event of the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships on Day 6, the 21-year-old from Repentigny, Que., made the most of it and then some, claiming silver in the men’s 100-m breaststroke SB9 in Canadian and Americas record time.
The championships, which also serve as the first qualifying opportunity for Tokyo 2020, run until Sunday at the London Aquatics Centre, one of the main venues of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Webcast is available on the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Swimming Canada Facebook Live platforms, with finals streamed on CBC Sports.
The other Canadian highlight on Saturday night came from Aurélie Rivard of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., who captured her fourth medal of the week, bronze in the women’s 100-m backstroke S10.
With one day left in the biennial competition, the Canadian team’s medal count stands at 12 (2-6-4), equalling the total Canada amassed in its last appearance four years ago in Glasgow, Scotland.
“As we head into the final day, I’m very pleased overall with the team’s performances,” said Wayne Lomas, Swimming Canada’s Associate Director of High Performance and Para Swimming National Coach. “Overall, we’ve stuck to our plans and with one day to go, although our job isn’t done yet, I’m confident that our team will leave their mark in London.”
Leroux posted a time of 1:08.56 to eclipse his own national mark of 1:09.24 set at the Canadian Trials in April. Italy’s Stefano Raimondo was the only swimmer to beat him to the wall, in a lightning-fast 1:05.58.
It marks Leroux’s first career medal in his second world championship appearance, after taking seventh place in the 100-m breast S9 in 2015. He also ranked seventh in the event at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, a year after capturing gold on home soil at the Parapan American Games in Toronto.
Thanks to his second-place finish, he earned a nomination to the Canadian Paralympic Committee to once again represent the country next summer in Tokyo.
“It feels great. I beat my personal best by almost one second, I didn’t expect that,” said Leroux, who trains at Montreal’s High Performance Centre – Quebec with coach Mike Thompson. “I was kind of thinking about a medal, but I didn’t want to focus on that, I just wanted to focus on my race and how to manage it. Tonight, the strategy was to control my aggressiveness in my first 50 to have more energy coming back, and obviously it worked.”
Leroux couldn’t wait to finally jump in the pool, more than a week after the team’s arrival in the UK’s capital.
“It’s the first time my race is near the end of a competition like that, whether at world championships, the Paralympics or any other major event. It was a bit tough mentally to wait this long, but I stayed focused and I enjoyed the opportunity to cheer on my teammates. I couldn’t wait to race though, that’s for sure,” said Leroux, who, as the coaches’ pick, had the honour of carrying the Canadian flag at Monday’s opening ceremony.
In the women’s 100-m back S10 final, Rivard edged Australia’s Jasmine Greenwood by 11 hundredths of a second to take third place in 1:10.69.
It was the 13th world championship medal of her decorated career but her first in the event. Earlier this week, the two-time Paralympian triumphed in the 50 and 100-m freestyle and merited silver in the 400-m free.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw I got bronze. This is crazy. I rarely practice the 100 back. To be honest, I was kind of hoping for fourth, I would have been ok with that,” said the 23-year-old, who trains with Leroux at CHP-Quebec in Montreal and who set her PB of 1:09.62 in the event at Rio 2016. “It definitely motivates me to put a little more time into it. My time from Rio would have been very close to second place tonight.
“For sure, 13 career medals at worlds is impressive. I never would have thought I’d get there. The thing I’m most happy about though is that after 10 years, I’m still this competitive, and I’m even able to claim a medal in a new event.”
Lomas couldn’t have been more proud of the two national team veterans.
“James’ PB tonight was a reward for his hard work. After missing last summer’s Pan Pacific Championships, he took some time to re-evaluate his training and plans. He and Coach Thompson have worked very hard, and tonight was the fruit of that labour. As a team, we really celebrate PB’s and James’ tonight was well deserved.
“Although not a best time, Aurélie’s ability to rise to the occasion and execute her key technical skills when it matters was key to her medal-winning backstroke performance. As the margins become tighter at the international level, technical skills become more important, and the focus on this by Aurélie, Mike and the Integrated Support Team at CHP-Quebec paid off in tonight’s race.”
Two other Canadian Paralympians reached finals on Day 6. Tess Routliffe of Caledon, Ont., was sixth in the women’s 100-m freestyle S7, and Katarina Roxon of Kippens, N.L., placed seventh in the women’s 200-m individual medley SM9.
Routliffe, another Thompson protégé at CHP-Quebec, clocked 1:14.27 in her fourth final of the week, a total that includes medal performances in the 100-m breaststroke S7 (silver) and the 200-m IM (bronze).
“I think it went pretty well. It’s not my best event. I went into it wanting to have fun and have a no-stress race, which was really nice after a few very stressful days,” said the 20-year-old, who set the Canadian standard of 1:13.97 in Rio, where she finished sixth. “I would have loved to set a best time. I wasn’t quite there tonight, but we’ll get there.”
Roxon, a veteran of five world championships, was thrilled after swims of 2:43.65 in the morning and 2:41.85 in the final, her two fastest times since Rio. The 26-year-old credited her evening performance to sound advice received from her father, Leonard, who trains her at Aqua Aces Swim Club.
“I’m pretty excited. I wanted to get under 2:40.00. I was under 2:42.00 tonight, which is still pretty good. Everything kind of came together pretty nicely. I got some advice from my dad, which was really nice. I thought about that all afternoon. I felt great in the water this evening, I felt strong. It’s looking pretty good going towards Tokyo.”
Five other Canadians also swam in morning preliminaries on Saturday.
Nicolas-Guy Turbide of Quebec City and Zach Zona of Waterford, Ont., both missed the evening session by one spot, placing ninth in the men’s 100-m butterfly S13 (1:01.72) and the men’s 200-m individual medley SM8 (2:40.16), respectively.
In the women’s 100-m freestyle S7, Sabrina Duchesne of St-Augustin, Que., was 10th in 1:16.30, while Shelby Newkirk of Saskatoon finished 14th in 1:20.16
In the women’s 200-m IM SM8, 16-year-old Danielle Dorris of Moncton clocked a 3:09.20, good for 13th place.
The 2019 World Para Swimming Championships come to a close on Sunday. Preliminaries start at 10 a.m. local time (5 a.m. ET) and finals at 6 p.m. (1 p.m. ET).
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