TOKYO – Canadian superstar Aurélie Rivard added to her sensational swimming resume on Wednesday thanks to a successful defense of her women’s 400-m freestyle S10 Paralympic title in world record time at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
The 25-year-old from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., didn’t just lower her own previous world standard in the longer freestyle distance. She obliterated it.
Rivard swam the four lengths of the pool in a blazing-fast four minutes, 24.08 seconds, more than five seconds under the previous mark of 4:29.27 she had set at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships in Cairns, Australia, and her previous Paralympic record of 4:29.96 from Rio 2016.
The three-time Paralympian now has nine career medals at the Games (5-2-2), including four podium finishes in as many events in the Japanese capital, two gold and a pair of bronze.
Her triumph in the 400 free marked her second world record performance in Tokyo. On Saturday, she also smashed her previous mark in the 100 free by over one second to capture her second straight Paralympic gold medal in that event.
As a team, Canada has six swimming medals with two days left in the meet, two of each colour.
“My race went great. I really wanted to focus on the technical aspects, like I did in the 100 free,” said Rivard, who trains at Club de Natation Région de Québec in Quebec City. “When I noticed I was ahead of the other girls, I just focused on the black line at the bottom of the pool and on finishing the race as fast as I could and see if I could lower the world record.
“I’m really happy to have lowered it and to have won the gold medal.”
After settling for silver behind Poland’s Oliwia Jablonska in the 400 free at the 2019 world championships in London, Rivard knew she had to bring her A game in order to prevail in Tokyo, and she delivered.
She was first at every turn, leading by almost one second at the 100-metre mark before increasing her advantage to 2.61 seconds at the midway point and 3.62 seconds after three lengths.
In the end, Bianka Pap of Hungary was left 5.75 seconds behind despite a superb 4:29.83 effort that flirted with Rivard’s old world record. Jablonska took bronze in 4:33.20.
“Two years ago I lost this race for the first time in six years and I hated the feeling. I wasn’t ready for that race and I hated the feeling of losing an event I have been winning for so long,” said Rivard. “I made a promise to myself that it would never happen again. For the past two years, 95 per cent of my work has gone into that race.
“I work really hard every single day to try and maintain the pace, try to lower that time as much as possible. I have been working on that for the last two years, making sure I was better than everybody else in the field.”
Rivard has two events left in Tokyo, including the 100 backstroke on Thursday and the 200 individual medley on Friday. She claimed bronze in the 100 back at London 2019 and silver in the 200 IM in Rio.
Two other Canadians competed in finals on Day 8.
In the women’s 50 freestyle S8, three-time Paralympian Morgan Bird (High Performance Centre – Quebec) of Calgary was sixth in 32.16, improving from her seventh-place finish in Rio.
The 27-year-old, who had qualified eighth out of the heats, had the fourth-best reaction time out of the blocks in the final but, like the rest of the field, couldn’t do much against Viktoriia Ishchiulova from the Russian Paralympic Committee, who flew out of the gates and triumphed by almost a full second, in 29.91
Brazil’s Cecilia Kethlen Jeronimo de Araujo (30.83) and Italy’s Xenia Francesca Palazzo (31.17) rounded out the podium.
“It was an improvement from this morning, both in time and placement,” said Bird. “I’m really proud of how I was able to have fun with it and stick to my race plan, improve on the things I was supposed to improve on, and be able to pull this time off tonight.”
Bird, who on Sunday helped the Canadian women’s relay claim bronze in the 4×100 free, will be back in the pool on Wednesday as part of the 4×100 medley team.
In the men’s 400 free S10, Alec Elliot (Club de Natation Région de Québec) of Kitchener, Ont., finished fifth with a time of 4:10.29 after qualifying second in the heats in 4:14.65.
The 24-year-old, who captured his first career world championship medal in the event, bronze, at London 2019, was never quite able to get into contention in Wednesday’s final.
He was seventh at the first turn, improved to fifth at the 100-metre mark, and maintained that position for the rest of the race.
World record holder Maksym Krypak of Ukraine led from start to finish to successfully defend his Paralympic title in 3:59.62. He was followed at the wall by Bas Takken of the Netherlands (4:02.02) and Thomas Gallagher of Australia (4:03.91).
“It was a good race. I followed my game plan, exactly how we planned it, go out and stay a bit behind the group but still be in the race at the 200 and just finish strong,” said Elliot. “I’m pretty happy with it.”
The two-time Paralympian, who had also placed fifth in the 100 butterfly on Tuesday, has one event remaining in the meet, the 200 IM on Friday.
“I’m looking forward to that. Another medal shot, and hopefully another good race.”
Also in action at the pool on Day 8 were four-time Paralympian Katarina Roxon (Aqua Aces Swim Club) of Kippens, N.L., and Rio 2016 veteran Abi Tripp (Kingston Y Penguins Aquatic Club) of Kingston, Ont.
Roxon was 10th in the women’s 200 IM SM9 heats in 2:47.09, while Tripp, swimming for the first time in Tokyo, was disqualified in the preliminaries of the women’s 100 breaststroke SB7.
Wayne Lomas, Swimming Canada’s Associate High Performance Director and National Para Swimming Coach, was impressed with the performances of the Day 8 finalists.
“In executing the race plan developed by her and coach Marc-André Pelletier to perfection, Aurélie achieved a new personal best which gave her a world record and a Paralympic gold Medal. Tonight’s result was the reward for commitment to process and excellence. It was also pleasing to see Aurélie’s training partner, Alec, who qualified for and swam in finals on consecutive evenings, also execute his race plan so well tonight and swim the third fastest time of his career on the biggest stage.
“Morgan also deserves great credit for the way that she improved her time and ranking in tonight’s final. As we enter the latter stages of these Paralympic Games, it’s the continued execution of process that demonstrates professionalism, and Morgan’s swim tonight was a great example of that.”
Full schedule and results: