Canadian Para swimmers kick off Worlds with “heck of a day”
MADEIRA, Portugal – Canada boasts the largest delegation at the 2022 World Para Swimming Championships with 30 swimmers and, on opening day, that strength in numbers translated into a remarkable tally of six medals at the Penteada Olympic Swimming Complex.
Leading the way for the Canadian contingent on Sunday were Saskatoon’s Shelby Newkirk and Aurélie Rivard of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., crowned world champions in the women’s 100-m backstroke S6 and the women’s 50 freestyle S10, respectively.
Newkirk sent a clear message to her competitors in the morning preliminaries when she prevailed in a championship record time of one minute, 21.86 seconds, and then won the evening final in 1:20.96, just off her national mark of 1:20.76 that earned her fourth place at last summer’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Ukraine’s Anna Hontar (1:23.46) and Switzerland’s Nora Meister (1:24.77) rounded out the podium.
“I’m so excited. I’ve been working towards this for a long time. Winning this title means the world to me. I feel like I’ve been fighting for this for so long. I’ve had some setbacks along the way but it just makes this that much sweeter. To be able to finally get that title in front of my parents in the stands, it makes it extra special.”
In the final, Newkirk led by only 43 hundredths of a second at the turn but turned on the jets in the second half of the race en route to a comfortable win.
“Typically my first half is my best, so I’ve been working really hard to try to even out the splits. I’ve been working on my turns every day since Tokyo. When I nailed that turn I thought ‘OK, I’ve got this.’ I just had to leave it all in the water and get to the wall as fast as I could.”
In the last final of the night, Rivard upped her career total to a sensational 15 world championship medals (5-6-4) when she touched the wall in 27.65 to easily distance Colombia’s Maria Paula Barrera Zapata (28.23) and Australia’s Jasmine Greenwood (28.37).
It was Rivard’s third straight world title in the event following her triumphs in 2015 and 2019. In Tokyo, however, she failed to defend her Paralympic crown and settled for bronze with a relatively slow time of 28.11.
“I’m really happy,” said Rivard. “My goal was not necessarily to regain the gold medal, but above all to regain my level of energy in this event, to go under 28 seconds again, to get as close as possible to my world record. It was really important to me.
“It was my first big race since Tokyo, so I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like. I’m happy that this race is behind me. It’s a great way to start the championships.”
Other Canadian medallists on Day 1 included 18-year-old Nicholas Bennett of Parksville, B.C., who took silver in the men’s 200 free S14; Tess Routliffe of Caledon, Ont., and Camille Bérubé of Gatineau, Que., who claimed silver and bronze in the women’s 200 individual medley SM7; and James Leroux of Repentigny, Que., third in the men’s 100 breaststroke SB9.
It was a busy day overall for the imposing Canadian delegation with 23 swimmers in action, including 17 who competed in finals.
“We had a heck of a day. That’s a heck of a way to start the championships,” said senior team coach Mike Thompson, head coach of the High Performance Centre-Quebec in Montreal. “It was great to see people step up and get on the podium. We had a new guy like Nick reach the podium. Aurélie stepped up and said ‘Hey! I’m not done yet.’ Same with Shelby. Cam finally reaching the podium at her last world championships, Tess coming back from injury, James returning to the podium. You couldn’t really ask for a better night.
“We also had a number of people who didn’t make the podium who stepped up and had personal best times, including swimmers who didn’t make finals like Clémence Paré and Jacob Brayshaw, who I believe had the biggest improvements in terms of percentage.”
In his first ever world championship final, Bennett clocked 1:54.41 to once again shatter his own Canadian record in the 200 free S14. Brazil’s Gabriel Bandeira beat him to the wall in 1:52.42.
“It feels amazing,” said Bennett, who had also lowered his national standard in the event in Tokyo and then at the Canadian Trials in April. “It sets me very well for the rest of the week. Anything can happen but it does take some pressure off of my shoulders.”
In the women’s 200 IM SM7, Routliffe (3:00.75) and Bérubé (3:05.40) finished behind the United States’ Julia Gaffney (2:55.28), who defended her title from London 2019.
“I’m just super happy. I don’t know how else to describe that,” said Routliffe, who claimed Paralympic silver in the event in 2016 and bronze at the 2019 Worlds but was unable to compete in Tokyo due to a serious back injury suffered a year ago. “I have 100 people to thank, we worked really, really hard this past year. It was probably the most emotional, the most nerve-racking race of my career.”
A three-time Paralympian, Bérubé reached the world championship podium for the first time. The 27-year-old recently announced she would retire from competition after the Commonwealth Games later this summer.
“Honestly, I couldn’t have hoped for anything better. I knew that was a possibility tonight. It was anyone’s race. I left my heart in the pool and really had fun.
“I’m still processing what’s going on. After the race, there was someone blocking the scoreboard. It’s when I finally saw the results that I realized what had just happened.”
In the men’s 100 breast SB9, Leroux added bronze to the silver medal he had won at the 2019 Worlds. His time of 1:11.04 trailed only reigning Paralympic champion Stefano Raimondi of Italy (1:07.61) and Germany’s Maurice Wetekam (1:10.02).
“I’m happy, but there are still a couple of things to work on. Of course in terms of ranking, the result is good. A bronze medal is always nice. On the other hand, since London 2019, it’s been a bit difficult for me as a swimmer. But I’m starting to get back there, and between now and Paris, it will be one year at a time.”
Other Canadians who competed in finals on Sunday evening include Aly Van Wyck-Smart of Toronto (1:51.29) and Nikita Ens of Meadow Lake, Sask. (1:57.12), fourth and fifth in the women’s 50 breast SB2; Philippe Vachon of Blainville, Que., fifth in the men’s 400 free S8 (4:49.16) while Zach Zona of Simcoe, Ont., placed sixth (4:51.24); Danielle Dorris of Moncton, N.B., fifth in the women’s 200 IM SM7 (3:06.82); Abi Tripp of Kingston, Ont., fifth in the women’s 400 free S8 (5:18.58); Jessica Tinney of Scarborough, Ont., fifth in the women’s 100 breast SB4 (personal best 2:30.83) and seventh in the women’s 50 free S5 (personal best 46.92); Arianna Hunsicker of Surrey, B.C., sixth in the women’s 50 free S10 (29.37); Alec Elliot of Kitchener, Ont., sixth in the men’s 50 free S10 (25.67); Jordan Tucker of Guelph, Ont., seventh in the women’s 100 breast SB4 (3:32.39); and Jagdev Gill of Brockville, Ont., eighth in the men’s 50 free S10 (25.83).
Canadians who saw their day end in the preliminaries included Gill, who placed 10th in the men’s 100 breast SB9 (1:18.76), as well as Danielle Kisser of Delta, B.C., 9th in the women’s 100 back S6 (1:45.06); Angela Marina of Cambridge, Ont., 10th in the women’s 200 free S14 (2:17.46); Clémence Paré of Boucherville, Que., 11th in the women’s 50 free S5 (personal best 52.07); Matthew Cabraja of Brampton, Ont., 11th in the men’s 50 free S11 (28.58); Jacob Brayshaw of Coldstream, B.C., 12th in the men’s 50 breast SB2 (personal best 1:54.67); and Emma Grace Van Dyk of Port Colborne, Ont., 12th in the women’s 200 free S14 (personal best 2:20.62).
The seven-day competition runs until Saturday, with preliminaries set for 9 a.m. local time (4 a.m. ET / 1 a.m. PT) and finals starting at 5 p.m. (noon ET / 9 a.m. PT) daily.
All finals are livestreamed on the Canadian Paralympic Committee’s Facebook page and Paralympic.ca as well as CBC Sports digital platforms: the free CBC Gem streaming service, cbcsports.ca, and the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices.
Full results: https://www.paralympic.org/madeira-2022/schedule-results