Aurélie Rivard swims to Canada's 1st gold medal at Tokyo Paralympics

·3 min read
Aurélie Rivard  of Canada poses on the podium with her gold medal in the women's 100-metre freestyle. (Marko Djurica/Reuters - image credit)
Aurélie Rivard of Canada poses on the podium with her gold medal in the women's 100-metre freestyle. (Marko Djurica/Reuters - image credit)

Decorated swimmer Aurélie Rivard has captured Canada's first gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympics.

Rivard, of St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Que., repeated as champion in the women's S10 100-metre freestyle on Saturday.

She raced to the finish in a remarkable time of 58.14 seconds — breaking the world record for a second time that day.

"It's probably one of the greatest swims of my life technically," Rivard said.

"To have been able to come back from what happened on day one and to step up and swim the best that I could, win Canada's first gold — it makes it even more special and I really enjoy the moment."

Swimmers from the Netherlands filled out the rest of the podium. But Rivard's dominance was crystal clear, as she finished in a full 2.09 seconds ahead of second-place athlete Chantalle Zijderveld.

Lisa Kruger took the bronze in a time of 1:00.68.

WATCH | Canada's Aurélie Rivard has world record-setting swim for gold:

When the Canadian won, she jumped and hit the water with her arms in total exhilaration.

Hungry for gold

The gold is Rivard's second medal at these Games, the other being a bronze in the S10 50-metre freestyle.

That medal came in the Canadian's first chance to defend one of her Paralympic titles in Tokyo. But her third-place finish had left the champion unsatisfied.

"I didn't have a bronze medal in my collection and I didn't really want one. I didn't have a good race," she said, noting it was still special to land on the podium.

WATCH | Para swimmer Rivard tops the podium in Tokyo:

Rivard headed into the freestyle event hungry for gold.

She attacked the event in her qualifying heat, breaking her own world record for what would be the first time that day in a time of 58.60 seconds.

Next up, the athlete says she'll watch her performance and talk with her coach before focusing on her upcoming races.

Rivard took top spot in the podium in this event in 2016, and in the 50- and 400-metre freestyles. She also won silver in the 200-metre individual medley in Rio and carried the flag into the closing ceremony.

Including a silver from London 2012, Rivard's Paralympic medal count has increased to seven total.

The swimmer is Canada's most decorated female Paralympian in Tokyo. The Paralympics marks the first time Rivard has competed at a meet in 18 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

WATCH | Rivard reflects on winning the first gold for Canada:

The ongoing pandemic means her achievement came under a different atmosphere than Rio, with fans barred from Paralympic events. The athlete said after her bronze medal race that the absence of a crowd seemed to intensify the pressure.

"Without the people in the stands to just be happy and encourage you, it changes the atmosphere; it's a lot heavier," she said.

It also means Rivard's family is absent from celebrations at the pool.

"I would love to share this with my family for sure," she said. "I think it's harder for them, though, not being here than for me. But I know they watched it, I know supporting me from home, and I can't wait to speak to them later tonight hopefully."

But when Rivard received her gold on Saturday, cheers could be heard from other Team Canada members, congratulating her from the stands before the national anthem rang out.

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