Late last July, swimmer Tess Routliffe pulled out of the Paralympics in Tokyo with a broken back that required surgery. She believed it was the right decision and would allow her to focus on her recovery and return “better and stronger” to the pool this year.
Routliffe, though, didn’t have visions of flashing a gold medal nearly a year later at the world championships in June. On Tuesday, the Caledon, Ont., native held off Nikita Howarth of New Zealand for her first world title in the women’s 100-metre breaststroke SB7 in Madeira, Portugal.
Howard pushed the Canadian in the first 50 metres but trailed the leading Routliffe by 73-100ths of a second and couldn’t get closer. Routliffe topped the field of eight in one minute 31.91 seconds, 1.54 seconds ahead of Howarth, to lower her Canadian record. Mexico’s Somellera Mandujano was nearly nine seconds back in third (1:40.55).
“I knew the big race was going to be between me and Nikita,” Routliffe, who trains with coach Mike Thompson at Montreal’s High Performance Centre-Quebec, said in a Swimming Canada news release. “I kind of just did what I always do, just tried to race the person next to me, and the person next to me happened to be very fast. At the 50, I knew it was going to be whoever came back faster.”
The 23-year-old said she wasn’t 100 per cent Tuesday morning, noting her back felt “a little rough” after clocking 3:00.75 for silver in the 200 individual medley SM7 on Sunday, but she was determined to perform well.
WATCH | Routliffe tops breaststroke field in 1 minute 31.91 seconds:
“[I] just tried to do what I could to try to feel better and it worked out pretty well,” Routliffe said poolside of her victory, an upgrade from her silver effort at the 2019 worlds in London. “I’m ecstatic.
“I’m very proud of all the hard work that went into the past year,” she told Swimming Canada. “Last year was a really heartbreaking year but I knew all my goals were still there, all my wants and needs were still there. I expected it to probably take a bit more time but it just shows that we’re back and we have a lot to look forward to.”
WATCH | Routliffe wins individual medley silver in Portugal:
Routliffe has had hypochondroplasia, a condition affecting the conversion of cartilage into bone, causing shortened limbs (dwarfism), since she was born in New Zealand while her parents travelled the world.
She began swimming at age 3 with Dorado Stars in Caledon and reportedly has looked in her best shape this year. She made a successful return from surgery in early April, capturing the 100 breaststroke on the opening day at the Canadian swimming trials in Victoria.
2019 triple world medallist
Routliffe made her international debut at the 2015 Para Pan Am Games in Toronto, winning four medals, including breaststroke gold over 100 metres. In her lone Paralympic appearance in Rio, she won silver in the 200 IM in 2016.
Two years later, Routliffe was a 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist in the 50 butterfly S7 before reaching the podium three times the following year at worlds.
Elsewhere, Alec Elliot of Kitchener, Ont., earned bronze in the men’s 400 freestyle S10 in 4:09.88 — the third-fastest time of his career — to match his result from 2019 worlds and increase Canada’s medal haul in Portugal to three gold, two silver and three bronze. Italy’s Stefano Raimondi won in a time of 4:06.42, followed by Bas Takken of the Netherlands (4:08.27).
Elliot, a two-time Paralympian, was neck and neck with Takken, the Tokyo silver medallist, for the entire race and even moved up to second at 300 metres.
The letter/number modifiers in the event name indicate classification.
Swimmers are organized into different categories depending on the severity of their disability, with the S10 category for those with minimal physical impairments.
Classification can also be broken down by discipline: S indicates freestyle, butterfly and backstroke; SB is breaststroke; and SM represents individual medley.
Other Canadian results Tuesday:
- Jagdev Gill of Brockville, Ont. — 7th in men’s 400m freestyle S10 (4:48.25).
- Nicholas Bennett of Parksville, B.C. — 5th in men’s 100 breaststroke SB14 (1:06.16).
- Philippe Vachon of Blainville, Que. — 5th in men’s 100 butterfly S8 (1:08.13).
- Jordan Tucker of Guelph, Ont. — 6th in women’s 150 individual medley SM4 (4:06.21).
- Matthew Cabraja of Brampton, Ont. — 6th in men’s 100 breaststroke SB11 (1:29.75).
- Danielle Kisser of Delta, B.C. — 7th in women’s 200 IM SM6 (3:45.55).
- Justine Morrier of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. — 8th in women’s 100 breaststroke SB14 (1:24.39).
- Shelby Newkirk/Jacob Brayshaw/Tucker Cowan/Felix Cowan — 8th in mixed 4×50 medley (3:40.02).
Live action on CBCSports.ca and CBC Gem from the Penteada Olympic Pools Complex continues Wednesday and each day this week at 12:05 p.m. ET through Saturday.
More than 600 athletes from over 70 nations are competing, with 31 swimmers representing Canada.