A few hours after climbing out of the Tokyo Paralympic pool, her outstanding Games now over, Aurélie Rivard chatted with the media over an internet call and found herself still in a touch of disabelief.
Her last event, a fourth in the 200-metre medley S10 on Friday, mattered little as it followed five medals in her other five events.
Over the last week and a half, Rivard had captured a quarter of Canada’s total medal count, gathering two golds, a silver and two bronzes, the first-place finishes being in the 100- and 400-metre freestyles.
“I can hardly believe it’s over and I’ve actually done that now,” she said. “It was a really long and really hard year. I couldn’t ask for better races for my two gold medals.”
Coming into the Paralympics, Rivard hadn’t competed in 18 months due to the pandemic.
Her trip began with a discouraging 50-metre freestyle result on Day 1. Coming in as the defending champion from Rio 2016 where she set a world record, the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. native was unable to keep the title, and finished third.
“I wanted to go home,” she said. “I felt like I had failed myself, my team, my country. I couldn’t explain it.”
Following that race, she gave herself space to clear her head, disconnect from social media and not let shaken confidence show.
Safe to say it worked. By the end of her second final – the 100-metre freestyle – there was a gold medal around her neck and a new world record.
“I don’t think I’ve been through a wider range of emotions through a shorter period of time,” the 25-year-old said when asked to reflect on her time in Tokyo. “I’m just kind of happy with the way I was able to handle it and maintain my focus until the very end and handle it mentally and not let those feelings take over.”
While most athletes competed three times throughout the Games at most, Rivard had to maintain concentration from start to finish.
“It’s really hard to stay focused and try to ignore everyone who’s finishing or going home and all the distractions, but I was just trying to focus on myself, focus on my preparation, and what I wanted to do, what I wanted to accomplish,” she said.
“My coach says, ‘Focus on the job’ and that’s kind of the only thing I could do and what I tried to do.”