Rivals in the pool rally to a common cause

September 15, 2016

Canadian and Brazilian will showdown tonight

By Ciaran Breen

Canadian Paralympic Media Consortium

Sept. 15, 2016 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – After coming fourth in the S10 50-metre freestyle last Friday night, Rio 2016 hometown-hero Andre Brasil tweeted, ‘Sport is like this: there are days when we win and others when we learn.’

With seven gold and five silver Paralympic medals to his name after touching the wall second in the 100-metre freestyle on Tuesday, the 32-year-old has had more good days than bad but behind all the success, he reserves a special mention for a Canadian – swimmer Benoit Huot.

“I just did what I did (over the last ten years) because of him,” said Brasil of his rival after they had both qualified for the final of the 100-metre backstroke on Saturday. The pair went on to set personal bests in the final but neither made the podium as the world record was smashed by Maksym Krypak for the second time in less than 12 hours.

Both the same age at 32, Brasil and Huot have been the protagonists in one of para-swimming’s most headline-grabbing rivalries for the best part of a decade.

“For me, it’s very special to swim with him,” said the Rio native. “Ben is one of my idols. I only started because of Ben.”

The S10 athletes have traded records over the years and while Huot lost his cherished 200 IM record earlier this year to Ukrainian Denys Dubrov, Brasil still holds five world-best times. Huot, from Longueil, Quebec, is on the verge of becoming Canada’s most decorated Paralympian, his 19 medals (nine of them gold) leaving him just one victory short of Michael Edgson. The North Vancouverite won the last of his 17 gold and three silver at the 1992 Games.

As Huot considers retirement, his last opportunity may come when the friendly rivalry continues in the 400-metre freestyle on Thursday. However, now at his fifth Paralympics, Huot is relishing the experience with his rival as much as his success by the stop watch.

“All the energy that (Andre) brought to the race… I’m just trying to enjoy the moment,” said Huot, who first competed in Rio in the 2007 Parapan Am Games

“We’ve been great friends. We’ve been in the same sport, trying to push each other and I became a better swimmer because of him. 

“I think it’s a great rivalry but before that a good friendship.”

Towards the tail end of his almost 20-year career, Huot revelled in the opportunities to promote the Paralympic movement at the 2013 para-swimming World Championships in Montreal and the 2015 Parapan Am Games in Toronto. This year, it’s Brasil’s turn.

“(After) all those years I can show my job, my work,” said the 32-year-old. “The Brazilian people can see how important the Paralympics are.”

Brasil described his homes Games as unique and surreal, hailing them as a moment for his country to embrace parasport as never before.

“Olympic, Paralympic, it doesn’t matter if I have a disability or not,” said Brasil, whose disability resulted from polio as a child. “You need to start to think different and put (them on) the same level.”