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Rivard notches silver medal hat-trick, Leroux sets Canadian record in Berlin

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Three-time Paralympian Aurélie Rivard added a trio of silver medals to her international resume to lead the Canadian contingent at the sixth event of the 2023 Citi Para Swimming World Series, held in Berlin from May 11-14.

A season-high 420 athletes from 51 countries, including nine Canadians, were in action in the German capital. The Series resumes later this month in Limoges, France (May 26-28) and concludes in the fall with meets in Tijuana, Mexico (Oct. 5-8) and Athens (Nov. 9-12).

Rivard, a 27-year-old from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., placed second in the women’s 200-m freestyle multiclass final on opening night, Thursday, and achieved the same result on Day 2 and Day 3 in the 100 free and 50 free. She wrapped up her competition on Sunday with an 11th-place finish in the 100 backstroke.

The S10 swimmer, who trains at Club de Natation Région de Québec in Quebec City, posted the fastest times in both the 200 and 50 free finals and was second at the wall in the 100 free.

“It was my first time racing the 200 free in over four years so I was pretty pleased with that one,” said the five-time Paralympic Games gold medallist and six-time world champion. “My goal was to swim faster than in the morning, to try to win the race based on time. So to be able to do that and get on the podium on points, I’m very happy. It’s a hard meet here in Berlin.

“In the 100 and 50 free, my goal was once again to swim faster in the final. I don’t get a chance to race against athletes from other categories very often so it was fun,” added Rivard, who had captured two gold medals and one silver in her only previous WPS World Series appearance of the season, back in February in Australia. “I just want to keep improving for this summer’s world championships.”

Canadians recorded seven more top-10 finishes in Berlin, including Tess Routliffe of Caledon, Ont., in the women’s 100 breaststroke (8th) and 200 individual medley (8th), as well as Zack Zona of Waterford, Ont., in the men’s 800 free (4th), Tyson MacDonald of Tillsonburg, Ont., in the men’s 200 back (6th), Clémence Paré of Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Que., in the women’s 800 free (6th in personal best 17:36.42), Arianna Hunsicker of Surrey, B.C., in the women’s 200 back (10th) and James Leroux of Repentigny, Que., in the men’s 50 breast (10th).

All six athletes train at Montreal’s High Performance Centre-Quebec.

In Saturday’s men’s 50 breast multiclass final, two-time Paralympian Leroux clocked 31.50 seconds to lower his own Canadian SB9 record of 31.55 set back in 2017, also at a World Series event in Berlin.

“My time was good. I wasn’t coming here thinking I’d set a Canadian record. After a mediocre 100 on Thursday, it was a solid performance,” said Leroux, who settled for 32nd place in Thursday’s 100 breast, an event in which he has medalled twice at world championships. “When I saw my time this morning I thought the record was within reach, so I went extra hard this evening to try to break it in the final.”

Routliffe, the 2016 Paralympian who came back from a serious back injury to capture three medals at last year’s world championships in Portugal, said she was excited to swim in “one of my favourite meets” in Berlin.

“I was really happy to be back in Berlin this weekend. I hadn’t been back in three or four years,” said the reigning 100 breast SB7 world champion. “The 100 wasn’t exactly where we want it to be right now but we have a lot we can work on and I’m excited for the next steps. Still have a lot to work on over the next few weeks but I’m excited to race at worlds this summer.”

In addition to her 10th-place finish in the 200 back on opening night, Hunsicker, a 19-year-old who made her world championships debut last summer, competed in a trio of B finals over the weekend, finishing 12th overall in the 50 free , 14th in the 100 free and 18th in the 50 butterfly.

“I’m really happy with my races. It’s really good practice going into worlds,” she said. “I wasn’t really expecting to make finals here because the competition is very hard so I’m very happy with the way I swam in the morning to be able to advance. I got a best time in the 100 free and third fastest ever in the 50 free, so I did really well here.”

Also of note, long-time national team member and Tokyo Paralympian Danielle Kisser of Delta, B.C., who plans to retire at the Canadian championships in August, competed in her final international race on Saturday. She clocked 49.62 in the 50 breast – the second best time of her career – to finish fourth in the B final and 14th overall.

“It was super fun. In my class, we don’t have the 50 breaststroke so I don’t get to race it that often,” said the 26-year-old, who placed fourth in the 100 breast SB6 at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and was seventh in the event at last year’s worlds. “It was very nice not to have to turn at the wall. Very happy with my swim. It was just very fun to race here in Berlin.”

21 Canadians are set to compete at the Manchester 2023 World Para Swimming Championships from July 31 to Aug. 6. The Santiago 2023 Parapan American Games follow in the fall (Nov. 17-26).