He is the most decorated Canadian athlete at the Tokyo Games. To add five new Paralympic medals to her collection, Quebec swimmer Aurélie Rivard had to find the strength to stay on top in a world upside down.
When asked what memory she has of her experience in Tokyo last summer, the 25-year-old cannot separate her from the year and a half of the pandemic that preceded her. “It affected so much our preparation, our results and the state of mind in which we presented ourselves. Months without training, the lack of competition, the constant threat that if anything went wrong at the Olympics, the Paralympics were going to take a hit … I still wonder how I managed to get to the Olympic Games. Games ready to perform. “
Its Games have also started badly. Reigning champion in the 50m freestyle S10, she finished third in the event. Shaken by what appears to her as an underperformance, she then realizes that she had underestimated the impact that these Games under a sanitary glass bell would have on her. “It is the spectators who bring all the spirit, the pleasure and the lightness to these Olympic swimming pools as big as the Bell Center. Without them, the atmosphere becomes so heavy that you could almost touch it. “
And then, it was not the same as participating in her first Games, like in London, where she won her first medal, or in Rio, where she was the challenger and amassed three gold medals and one bronze. “Since I was 12, I always want to do better than the time before. In London, it was magical. In Rio, I had everything to prove and everything to gain. In Tokyo, I had everything to lose. “
Things ended up going very well for the native of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. There, she won two gold, one silver and two bronze medals in addition to breaking two world records and improving a personal best. With five podiums, she is responsible for almost a quarter of the Canadian Paralympic Team’s 21-medal harvest.
All female medals
Aurélie Rivard is not the only Canadian to have stood out in Tokyo. Of the 24 medals won by Canada at the Olympic Games a few weeks earlier, 18 were won by women. From weightlifter Maude Charron to canoeist Laurence Vincent-Lapointe, including divers Jennifer Abel and Mélissa Citrini-Beaulieu, the seven Quebec medals have all been female. The split between men (10 medals) and women (11 medals) was much more even on the Canadian Paralympic team.
The Paralympic Games are slowly gaining recognition, including in the eyes of other athletes, believes Aurélie Rivard. “It makes me so happy because it really wasn’t like that ten years ago. “
But there is perhaps more important. “At the start, the Paralympic Games were just for me the chance to compete at the highest level possible. But I realize more and more that they have the power to reach people outside of sport and to widen the range of possibilities. I receive a lot of testimonials from parents who tell me that they were afraid for the future of their child, but that by seeing us at the Paralympic Games, they had regained hope, ”says the law student whose disability is due to an atrophied hand that swam the 100m freestyle in 58.14 seconds in Tokyo, which would have earned him the 44e place at the other Games, a few weeks earlier.