Canadian teen Danielle Dorris wins Paralympic gold and sets world record

·5 min read

The tears flowed well before "O Canada" played Friday.

Danielle Dorris captured a gold medal in the 50-metre butterfly at the Tokyo Paralympics in spectacular fashion, breaking the world record twice.

And moments before her medal ceremony, the 18-year-old from Moncton, N.B., called longtime coach Ryan Allen down from the Tokyo Aquatics Centre stands. She asked him to be the one to present her medal.

"He started tearing up," Dorris said, smiling. "Having him here was very special . . . that already got me crying, so during the anthem I was just a ball of tears."

Dorris touched the wall in 32.99 seconds for her second medal in Tokyo. She also won silver in the 100 backstroke.

Canadian sprinter Marissa Papaconstantinou captured bronze in the women's 100 metres to give Canada 20 medals with two days of competition remaining.

Swim star Aurelie Rivard just missed the medal podium in her final race in Tokyo, finishing fourth in the 200 individual medley. The 25-year-old from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., heads home with five medals -- two gold, a silver and two bronze -- for a career total of 10.

It was a solid finish for a strong swim team that won eight medals at the Paralympics, a month after Canada's Olympic swimmers claimed six medals.

Dorris, who was born with underdeveloped arms, was spotted by Janet Dunn, Canada's Para-swimming performance pathway coach, when she was just 11. Dunn paired Dorris with coach Allen.

"It was very eye-popping immediately that Janet saw something and knew (how good could Dorris could be)," Allen said.

Two years later at the Rio Games, Dorris became the youngest swimmer ever on a Canadian Paralympic team.

"On this trip, kind of as a thank you, I said to Janet that I remembered standing on the deck when she told me about this kid," Dorris said. "Janet made it very clear that (I needed to) learn, get educated, put yourself out there and stay ahead of this kid to try and guide her along the way.

"And so, I've really taken that to heart through the years that I needed to be one step ahead as best as possible."

Allen was thrilled when Dorris asked him to present her medal.

"I honestly had to turn around and look the other way," Allen said. "Because it was emotional. Just to share that with her is extremely cool."

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in early 2020, Dorris tethered herself into her family's backyard swim spa -- which is swimming's version of a treadmill or stationary bike -- to train.

She hopes her medals inspire young kids in Canada who have physical impairments.

"I truly believe anyone can be successful if they put the hard work into it," Dorris said. "So, I think having me as an example will definitely help those children who are thinking about joining, maybe take that leap."

Like the Olympics a month earlier, COVID-19 prevented family members from travelling to Tokyo. So Dorris is excited to see her dad Jean-Pierre and mom Wanda at the airport.

"I am definitely anticipating my mother crying," she said with a laugh.

Rivard wrapped up a fabulous Games that got off to a rocky start with a bronze medal in the 50-metre freestyle, an event she expected to win. A couple of days later, after experiencing what she said was the widest range of emotions in such a short time, she bounced back win Canada's first gold in Tokyo, in the 100 free. She also won the 400 freestyle.

"I'm not gonna lie, this was probably the most challenging thing to do," Rivard said. "Because how the way I felt on the first day after the 50 free, I wanted to go home, I felt like I had failed myself, my team, my country, and I couldn't explain it. And it got me really worried for the upcoming events because we were only at Day 1.

"I just locked myself in my room and I gave myself some space to be upset. But after that, all of my energy went into pretending like it didn't happen."

Papaconstantinou, a 21-year-old from Toronto, raced to a personal-best 13.07 seconds in the 100, and waited a few tense moments for her bronze-medal placing to appear on the big screen at Olympic Stadium.

"I was like having a conversation with myself in my head. I was like, 'I think I got it.' But I wasn't sure because I couldn't see who was around me," said Papaconstantinou, who was born without a right foot.

"I honestly blacked out in that race because I was so focused on the finish line, and pushing all the way through. Those few seconds waiting was definitely tough. But when my name was shown as third, like I freaked out."

Amy Watt of Victoria was fifth in women's long jump.

Three other Canadians made finals on the last day of swimming. Alec Elliot of Kitchener, Ont., was fifth in the men's individual medley, Matthew Cabraja of Brampton, Ont., was fifth in his 100 butterfly, and Morgan Bird of Calgary raced to seventh in the women's 100 butterfly.

Canada's women's sitting volleyball team will play for Brazil for bronze Saturday after a 3-0 loss to China in Friday's semifinals.

"If you told me we would be playing for a medal, after just squeezing in with our last-chance qualifier last year (in February of 2020), I don't think I would have believed you," said team captain Danielle Ellis of White Rock, B.C. "But this team has shown immense growth in the last two years and we're ready to compete for a medal."

The fifth-ranked Canadians have never won a Paralympic medal.

In canoe, Brianna Hennessy of Ottawa was fifth in the 200 metres.

Canada's women's wheelchair basketball team finished fifth after a 68-49 victory over Japan.

Rosalie Lalonde of Saint-Clet, Que., led the way with 20 points, while Kady Dandeneau of Pender Island, B.C., had 14.

The Canadian men finished eighth after a 68-56 loss to Germany. Bo Hedges of Wonowon, B.C., had 16 points while Colin Higgins of Rothesay, N.B., added 12. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 3, 2021.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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