Summer success shows Canadian para-athletes are prepared for Paris | CBC sports

It was the elephant in the room that many within the Canadian Paralympic Committee – and certainly Canadian athletes – didn't want to talk too much about ahead of the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games.

That the severe restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic could dramatically affect athletes' preparation and performance for these Games.

The athletes didn't want to give the impression that they were making excuses. The supervisors did not want to tell the athlete how drastically his training had derailed.

So they pushed on, preparing for the toughest of circumstances while trying to stay resilient, focused and at their best.

Canadian Paralympians won just 21 medals at the Tokyo Paralympics, the lowest total since 1972 and a far cry from dominance in the 1990s and early 2000s, when Canadians brought home more than 90 medals per game.

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Andrew Parsons spoke to CBC Sports' Rob Pizzo about the upcoming Paris Games and also gave details on the possible involvement of Russian and Belarusian athletes.

“I guess I've realized that the pandemic has really impacted our Paralympic sport and our preparation for Tokyo,” Catherine Gosselin-Després, CPC's director of sport, told CBC Sports. “Some of the restrictions have definitely impacted their preparation.”

Gosselin-Després, who has held her role since 2013, said that during the pandemic, CPC staff have done everything they can to keep athletes focused and motivated, but that it hasn't always been easy.

“They were frustrated enough with the conditions as it was and we tried to keep that under control and stay positive,” she said.

How much the restrictions affected the performance in Tokyo could only really be seen in comparison and comparison with other international competitions.

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With the Paralympics just over a year away, CBC Sports has invited a number of athletes to discuss their plans for Paris.

The last three world championships held this summer – water sports, track and field and cycling – show that Tokyo was the breakaway. With proper training, restrictions lifted and a renewed sense of excitement in the wake of the pandemic, Canadian athletes have thrived.

At the World Para Athletics Championships in Paris, Canada took home 14 medals, the country's highest total since 2013.

Nate Reich successfully defended his 2019 men's T38 1500m title, winning gold in four minutes and 3.07 seconds.

He also won gold at the Tokyo Paralympics but knows the pandemic has taken its toll.

“This time I'm really trying to stay in Canada as much as possible,” he said. “It's going to be a lot of hard training. And we also want to change some things that we did wrong last year.”

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After four medals at the Para Swimming World Championships in Manchester in 2023, Tess Routliffe is more fired up than ever ahead of next summer's Paralympics.

At the World Aquatics Championships in Manchester, England in early August, the Canadians won 19 medals, the highest total for Canada since winning 21 at the 2010 World Championships in Eindhoven, Netherlands.

And then Canada finished the World Cycling Championships in mid-August with a total of 19 medals at the 11-day event in Scotland.

With a year to go before the Paris Paralympics, Canadian athletes feel poised to take the podium.

“It was just great to see them recovering from the pandemic and being able to perform really well there,” said Gosselin-Després. “It's almost a similar group of athletes and now they're showing a great level,”

Perhaps most importantly, this summer's success means Canadian athletes have secured a large number of quota places for Canada at the Paralympics.

“They definitely made life a lot easier for themselves by booking so many spots well in advance,” said Rob Frost, CPC Paralympic Services Manager. “Now they can just focus on the process and the games.”

A swimmer presents her gold medal.
Canada's Aurelie Rivard presents the gold medal she won in the S10 100m freestyle at the Para Swimming World Championships in early August. (Getty Images)

Frost said attention is quickly shifting to the Para Pan Am Games, set to begin in Santiago, Chile, in late November. Many qualification places for team sports can be awarded there.

Only the winners of wheelchair rugby, women's and men's wheelchair basketball and goalball will be granted direct entry to the Paralympics.

“This is a big moment for these team sports. You have to prepare a lot for that,” Frost said.

The squads for Canada will be finalized in late September and early October.

“I think it will be great in Paris. The athletes will be delighted. We have to get it right and prepare them very well for what's to come,” said Gosselin-Després.

“For us, the main thing will be to focus on the positive, namely that we get back to normal.”

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