LONDON – In a fitting conclusion to the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships, team veteran Katarina Roxon contributed to Canada’s last two medals of the biennial competition on Sunday evening, while also becoming the latest member of the 18-swimmer contingent to earn a nomination to the Canadian Paralympic Committee to represent the country next summer in Tokyo.
Thanks to Roxon’s silver medal in her specialty event, the women’s 100-m breaststroke SB8, and a bronze-medal performance from the women’s 4x100-m freestyle relay 34 points, the Canadian delegation wrapped up the London worlds with 14 podium finishes (2-7-5), two more than Canada’s total from its last participation four years ago in Glasgow, Scotland.
More than medals however, Wayne Lomas, Swimming Canada’s Associate Director of High Performance and Para Swimming National Coach, was thrilled to see seven team members achieve at least one personal best and 16 athletes swim at least one race faster that they had done at the Canadian Trials in April.
“I said to the team at the start of these championships that our success would be judged by our ability to stay calm, remain professional, focus on process and record PBs on the day that matters. The team has certainly delivered on that. As a team, we put an emphasis at being better at the international event than at trials, and for 16 swimmers, that goal was achieved this week.
“With less than a year until the first swim of the Tokyo Paralympics, every swimmer and coach now has a much clearer view about what they need to focus on in order to achieve their Paralympic dreams. For us, the journey to Tokyo has begun. London has provided a fantastic opportunity to learn, to grow and to perform.”
In the women’s 100-m breast SB8 final, Roxon, a 26-year-old from Kippens, N.L., who was crowned Paralympic champion in the event in 2016, posted a time of 1:21.96, her best since Rio, where she set the national mark of 1:19.44. The only opponent to beat her to the wall was Great Britain’s Brock Whiston, who broke her own world record thanks to a remarkable 1:13.83.
The second-place finish marked Roxon’s best individual result in five world championship appearances, bettering her bronze medal from 2015 in the same event. It was also her second final in two nights in the UK’s capital, following her seventh position in the 200-m individual medley on Saturday.
“It’s such a good feeling. I’m very excited. Coming into this, I really wanted to get a medal. I knew realistically gold was probably out of the question,” said Roxon, who trains at Aqua Aces Swim Club with her coach, and father, Leonard. “My dad and I have been working on a few things. It was super hard at first, but now it’s getting easier. I know I still have a lot more work to do.
“I was watching the Pan American Games last month and there was this girl, she’s 27 and she out-touched everyone in her event, she did amazing. When you hear often enough that you’re getting old, sometimes you start to believe it. But when I saw that, I thought, age doesn’t matter, what matters is how much heart you have, how much you want to push yourself.”
The fact she achieved her best career result at worlds in her return to the London Aquatics Centre, the venue where she competed in her second Paralympic Games back in 2012, was not lost on Roxon.
“This place has been very special in my career. In 2012, I came into those Games very nervous, I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I didn’t perform at all like I wanted to. So these worlds were kind of my second chance to make things right, and to be able to stand on the podium tonight in this venue is very special.”
Understandably, Lomas was proud of the longest-serving member of the team.
“It was very exciting to see Katarina swim her third fastest time ever and her fastest since Rio. Kat demonstrated tonight that through training, dedication and committing to working on the technical details of her stroke, great times and medal winning performances can be achieved. I’m sure that Katarina and her father Leonard will build on this summer’s performances as they launch their Tokyo 2020 campaign.”
The women’s relay of Abi Tripp of Kingston, Ont., Roxon, Aurélie Rivard of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., and Tess Routliffe of Caledon, Ont., provided the other Canadian highlight of the final night, taking third place in the last event of the championships in 4:30.09, just ahead of China (4:31.12).
Going in third, Rivard overcame four rivals to put Canada in the lead at the 300-m mark and Routliffe took on from there, holding off a furious charge from China in the final 50.
It was Rivard’s fifth medal of the week (2-1-2) and the 14th of her career at worlds (4-6-4).
“I think including prelims and finals, I raced 10 or 11 times this week. I’m exhausted,” said Routliffe, who trains alongside Rivard at Montreal’s High Performance Centre – Quebec with coach Mike Thompson, and who will leave London with three medals, one silver and two bronze. “I’m grateful that our coaches thought I could do this. It was an honour to be chosen as the anchor. Aurélie just set me up perfectly. She caught up to everybody.”
Tripp was thrilled to make her first career trip to the world championship podium, and to swim with three members of the 4x100-m free relay (Roxon, Routliffe, Rivard) that finished fifth and set the Canadian standard of 4:29.40 at Rio 2016.
“This is really incredible,” said the 18-year-old, who trains at the Kingston Y Penguins Aquatic Club with coach Vicki Keith. “To be part of a bronze-winning relay in my first world championships is amazing. I didn’t come here thinking I was going to be on the relay, and I was really honoured to get this opportunity.”
To say Lomas was impressed with the foursome would be an understatement.
“The incredible performance of the Canadian Team was personified tonight by our women’s relay. Abi, Katarina, Aurélie and Tess were simply fantastic. The spirit, teamwork and composure of those four young women were outstanding and indicative of the attributes that our team stands for.”
In other finals featuring Canadians on Day 7, Nicolas-Guy Turbide of Quebec City was seventh in the men’s 50-m freestyle S13, while Nikita Ens of Meadow Lake, Sask., and Camille Bérubé of Gatineau, Que., placed eighth in the women’s 100-m freestyle S3 and in the women’s 100-m breaststroke SB6, respectively.
Turbide shattered his own Canadian record in the 50-m S13 final, touching the wall in 24.97 to lower his previous mark of 25.18 set at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships in Australia.
The 22-year-old Paralympian enjoyed a successful week in London, having previously claimed the first world championship medal of his career, in the 100-m backstroke, and established a national and Americas standard in the 200-m IM.
“In all our events, we have a psychological barrier that is difficult to get over, and for me, in the 50 free, it was definitely to go under 25 seconds for the first time. So mission accomplished tonight, and it's a good sign for the future,” said Turbide, who trains at Club de Natation Région de Québec with coach Marc-André Pelletier.
Not to be outdone, Ens also lowered her own Canadian mark in the women’s 100-m free S3 but did so in the morning preliminaries with a time of 2:32.70. The 30-year-old annihilated her previous best – 2:39.97 at the Canadian Trials - by over seven seconds.
In the evening, in her first career world championship final, Ens again went under her Trials time, in 2:35.38.
“I’m really excited about how it went this morning, and now I’m excited about the idea of what to focus on in the future,” said Ens, who trains at the Saskatoon Laser Swim Club with coach Eric Kramer. “It was great to swim in my first world championship final tonight alongside all those hard-working individuals.”
Bérubé, a two-time Paralympian who trains at Natation Gatineau with coach Craig McCord, clocked 1:47.86 her third final of the week.
Five other Canadians also swam in morning preliminaries on Sunday, with four of them missing the evening session by a single spot.
Finishing ninth in their event were Danielle Kisser of Delta, B.C., in the women’s 100-m breaststroke SB6 (1:48.71), Justine Morrier of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., in the women’s 100-m butterfly S14 (1:14.06), Shelby Newkirk of Saskatoon, in the women’s 50-m freestyle S7 (36.53), as well as 16-year-old national team rookie Aly Van Wyck-Smart of Toronto, in the women’s 100-m freestyle S3 (2:43.19).
In men’s action, Matthew Cabraja of Woodbridge, Ont., placed 12th in the 400-m freestyle S11 (5:05.14).