It was a victory with an exclamation point.
Aurelie Rivard claimed Canada’s first gold medal of the 2016 Paralympics Friday, winning the S10 50-metre freestyle in a world record time of 27.37 seconds.
Rivard pulled off her swimming cap and flashed a huge grin when her time was flashed on the board. After climbing out of the pool at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium she blew kisses to crowd and hugged her competitors.
The emotion dripped off her like water following the race.
“I didn’t know how to react when I touched the wall,” said the 20-year-old from St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Que. “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or jump or throw up.”
Rivard’s time smashed the previous world record of 27.60 set by Russia’s Nina Ryabova in May. During the morning Rivard swam a Paralympic record 27.83 seconds for the fastest time in the preliminaries.
“I’m over the moon right now,” said Rivard, who was born missing part of her left hand. “I’m so relieved. I just lost 30 pounds of stress and pressure.
“I have been thinking about this race for a year. A 50 metres is so short anything can happen. I was a little worried but now it’s done. I didn’t know how to react when I touched the wall. So many emotions are all mixed up in my head and my heart.”
Sophie Pascal of New Zealand was second in 27.72 seconds. China’s Yi Chen took the bronze in 28.21.
It’s been a meteoric rise for Rivard. She was a wide-eyed 16-year-old when she won a silver medal in the 400-m freestyle at the London 2012 Paralympics.
At the 2015 IPC Swimming World Championships she won gold in the 50-m freestyle and 400-m freestyle. A few weeks later at the Parapan American Games in Toronto she won a record seven medals, including six gold, and set a world record in the 100-m freestyle.
Now she can claim the title of Paralympic champion.
“I’ve been dreaming about this ever since I was a little girl,” she said. “When I started swimming in 2010 I was not even thinking about London. I was thinking about Rio because I (thought I) was too young for London.
“I know I have worked so long for this. I think I really deserve it. The feeling you get when you achieve your dream and your goal, and you know you have worked for it, it’s pretty great.”
Rivard has four individual races remaining in Rio, including Saturday’s 100-m backstroke.
Story from the Canadian Paralympic Committee | Paralympic.ca