A quartet of Canadians wasted little time gaining notice at the Para swimming world championships, winning gold medals on the opening day of competition in Manchester, England on Monday.
Shelby Newkirk of Saskatoon topped the women’s field of eight in the 100-metre backstroke S6 event. She clocked one minute 20.62 seconds for her second straight world title and lowered her 1:20.96 championship record from a year ago.
Nicholas Bennett of Parksville, B.C., touched the wall 4-100ths of a second quicker than Great Britain’s William Ellard to take the men’s 200 freestyle S14 for his first career world gold. Bennett’s time was 1:54.75 compared to 1:54.79 for Ellard.
Tess Routliffe of Caledon, Ont., raced to the top of the podium in the women’s SM7 200 individual medley, while a disqualification elevated Moncton, N.B., native Danielle Dorris to the bronze position.
Aurélie Rivard of St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Que., won the women’s 50m freestyle S10 — a distance she has also won at the 2015 and 2022 Para worlds, and the 2016 Paralympics. Rivard
Canadians won a total of five medals on Day 1, earning four gold and one bronze. Four golds places Canada in a tie with Great Britain for second, behind Italy’s six.
WATCH | Newkirk boasts back-to-back backstroke world titles:
Newkirk prepared for worlds winning three gold and bronze at a Winnipeg competition in early July.
“It’s amazing to defend this [world] title,” the 27-year-old, who qualified fourth for Monday’s final, said in a Twitter post. “I knew I was going to have to fight for it. After the turn [with 50 metres left] I tried to go for it.
“I knew I was happy with the time … with the swim. At the same time, I couldn’t see the [scoreboard]. I noticed Mike Thompson, our head coach, having a happy dance so I figured I must have done well.”
China’s Yuyan Jiang captured silver (1:21.18) and Anna Hontar bronze (1:22.34).
Newkirk trains up to 13 times a week on land and in the water and recently told Saskatoon radio station AM 650 CKOM she runs two businesses — Crafty Prairie Girl and Accessible Life — while coaching with the Saskatoon Lasers Swim Club.
Shortly after she began swimming in 2012, Newkirk developed generalized dystonia, a progressive neurological disorder like Parkinson’s that affects movement, balance and coordination.
WATCH | Bennett edges Ellard at finish line of 200m freestyle S14:
Meanwhile the 19-year-old Bennett, competing against seven other men at the Manchester Aquatic Centre, fell shy of his 1:51.40 world record — pending ratification — set last October at the FINA World Cup in Toronto.
Australia’s Jack Ireland, who held the previous short course (25-metre) mark of 1:52.49, was third in Monday’s race in 1:55.38.
He later posted a Commonwealth Games mark of 1:54.97 to claim gold in Birmingham, England.
In his 2020 Paralympic debut, Bennett set the national mark in all four of his events in Tokyo, reaching the final in 100 breaststroke (fifth), 200 free (sixth) and 200 individual medley (seventh).
He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 3.
WATCH l Routliffe claims SM7 200 IM gold, Dorris elevated to bronze:
Routliffe’s SM7 200 IM victory was particularly special after being forced to miss the Tokyo Paralympics in 2021 due to a back injury.
“The injury really made me realize how much I love what I do and how much I appreciate the people around me,” Routliffe said following her race. “It’s really just pushed me to that extra level. That’s why we’re here.”
Routliffe fell just short of gold in the same event at the 2022 Para world championship in Medeira, Portugal, where she won silver. The 24 year old has previously won Paralympic silver in the SM7 200 IM at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Dorris, meanwhile, managed to place in a podium position following a disqualification, elevating the 20-year-old to bronze — Canada’s only non-gold medal of the day.
WATCH l Rivard races to gold in 50m freestlye S10:
Canada’s final medal of the day was won by the 27-year-old Rivard, a decorated Paralympian who managed to defend her 50m freestyle S10 world title from last year in Madeira.
Rivard won her race following a scheduling delay.
“When they announced we were actually racing in 10 minutes, everybody screamed,” she said. “I’m really happy that I was able to push through and defend my title.
“We’ve got to be adaptable, things happen.”
In April, eight athletes were added to Canada’s team, joining 13 who previously qualified with their performances at the national swimming trials in Toronto.
Canada enjoyed its best performance since 2010 at worlds last year when it reached 18 podiums, including six gold.
Watch live coverage from Manchester through Aug. 6 on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
- Nicholas Bennett (Parksville, B.C.)
- Katie Cosgriffe (Burlington, Ont.)
- Danielle Dorris (Moncton, N.B.)
- Sabrina Duchesne (Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, Que.)
- Alexander Elliot (Kitchener, Ont.)
- Nikita Ens (Saskatoon)
- Arianna Hunsicker (Surrey, B.C.)
- James Leroux (Repentigny, Que.)
- Angela Marina (Cambridge, Ont.)
- Shelby Newkirk (Saskatoon)
- Clémence Paré (Boucherville, Que.)
- Aurélie Rivard (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.)
- Tess Routliffe (Caledon, Ont.)
- Katarina Roxon (Kippens, N.L.)
- Jessica Tinney (Scarborough, Ont.)
- Abi Tripp (Kingston, Ont.)
- Jordan Tucker (Guelph, Ont.)
- Nicolas-Guy Turbide (Quebec City)
- Philippe Vachon (Blainville, Que.)
- Aly Van Wyck-Smart (Toronto)
- Zach Zona (Simcoe, Ont.)