From Santiago to Paris, Canadian Para athletes set the table for a successful 2024

Call 2023 an appetizer. The past year provided some great moments for Canadian Para athletes — many of which only served to ignite even more excitement about the main course that is 2024, when the Paralympics head to Paris.

Medal hauls in cycling, swimming, athletics show Canada's Paralympic potential

A wheelchair racer drapes a Canadian flag over his shoulders in celebration.
Brent Lakatos, seen above at the Para athletics worlds in July, is among many Canadian Para athletes who shone in 2023. (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

Call 2023 an appetizer.

The past year provided some great moments for Canadian Para athletes — many of which only served to ignite even more excitement about the main course that is 2024, when the Paralympics head to Paris.

Perhaps no event set the table for the Paralympics more than the Parapan Am Games, which recently wrapped in Santiago, Chile.

Crowds of enthusiastic fans from the tennis court to the goalball arena and the pool gave a glimpse of the excitement some expect in Paris, which has been hyped in certain circles as the most celebratory Paralympics since London 2012.

WATCH | CBC Sports' Rob Pizzo takes you through the year's marquee moments:

CBC Sports' 2023 Year In Review: A sport-by-sport breakdown

4 months ago
Duration 10:19
Join CBC Sports' Rob Pizzo, as he takes you through the biggest stories in Canadian sports over the last year.

Of course, Canadian athletes made their mark in South America as well. You just have to think back to the scene after Canada's women's goalball team beat the Americans in a tense final. Teammates joyfully piled on veteran Amy Burk, a gold medal and Paralympic ticket in hand.

Or there was Alison Levine, the double gold medallist who was nonetheless stunned to be named Canada's flag-bearer for the closing ceremony.

Rob Shaw earned silver in a thrilling final against a Chilean opponent with the entire crowd against him, and both showed immense sportsmanship with their greeting at the net after the final point was won.

And Kyle Tremblay booked his spot in Paris with bronze in an archery event.

WATCH | Canada wins goalball gold at Parapan Am Games:

GOLD MEDAL: Canadian women edge Americans to claim Parapan Am goalball gold

5 months ago
Duration 8:18
Emma-Leigh Reinke scored a hat-trick, including two successful penalty conversions, and Canada hung on for a 4-3 victory in the Santiago 2023 Parapan American Games women's goalball gold medal final. The win also gives Canada a berth at the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.

In July, we were treated to a more direct Paralympic preview when the Para athletics worlds took place at Charlèty Stadium — about 20 kilometres south of Stade de France, where Paralympic track-and-field events will be contested.

Canadians collected 14 medals at worlds — including a pair golds courtesy of Brent Lakatos and Nate Riech, two athletes who seemed poised to snatch more hardware.

Lakatos, 43, already holds 10 Paralympic medals, though just one is a gold. The world championships have often drawn more success for the wheelchair racer, where the Dorval, Que., native has 11 titles and seven combined silver and bronze.

But the Paris meet began with two silvers for Lakatos, both times falling short against Thai rival Paeyo Pongsakorn. Perhaps the 800-metre gold — a wire-to-wire win by less than a tenth of a second over Paeyo — provides a boost for the Canadian heading into next summer.

Riech, on the other hand, only knows gold. The 28-year-old successfully defended his title in the T38 1,500 metres at worlds. The Victoria resident is also the world record holder in the distance and the reigning Paralympic champion, to go with his world record in the 800, which was not contested at the 2021 Games.

And while Riech and Lakatos were the headliners, Canada's medal haul was its greatest at the event since 2013. Long jumper Noah Vucsics introduced himself with silver at his first major meet, Renee Foessel earned her third career discus medal at worlds and sprinter Bianca Borgella broke out with two medals of her own.

WATCH | Athletics North breaks down Canada's performance at worlds:

Here's how Canada did at the 2023 World Para Athletics Championships | Athletics North

9 months ago
Duration 3:06
Canada's Para athletes put in work in Paris at the 2023 Para Athletics World Championships taking home a total of 14 medals (2 gold, 7 silver, 5 bronze). Here is the recap from Athletics North.

With a mix of old and new, Canada is poised for plenty of athletics podiums in Para athletics — and a similar story should play out in swimming, too.

At the swimming worlds in Manchester, England, over the summer, Canadian athletes earned 19 medals. Among those podium appearances were nine gold, the most for Canada since 2006.

Leading the way, as per usual, was Aurèlie Rivard, the 27-year-old from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., who pushed her career medal total to 19 with a pair of gold.

But a younger star also emerged. Danielle Dorris, the 21-year-old from Moncton, N.B., matched Rivard's gold-medal count but also added a silver and a bronze. Dorris now has six career medals at worlds.

It seems a near-lock that Dorris will add to that count in Paris, with the likes of Katarina Roxon and Tess Routliffe (whose sister Erin Routliffe teamed with Ottawa's Gabriela Dabrowski to win women's doubles at the U.S. Open) possibly pushing Canada to a record performance in the pool.

WATCH | Dorris, Routliffe rise up at worlds:

Danielle Dorris and Tess Routliffe dominate at the Para worlds

9 months ago
Duration 2:54
Danielle Dorris of Moncton, N.B. won her second gold medal while Tess Routliffe of Caledon, Ont., captured silver in the women's 50-metre butterfly at the 2023 Para Swimming World Championships in Manchester, England.

Nathan Clement was once a teammate of Routliffe and Roxon's in the pool — until he switched to cycling.

The 29-year-old retired from swimming in 2016, only to fall in love with cycling after a 1,000-kilometre trek through B.C. in 2020.

Three years later, the West Vancouver native captured gold and bronze medals at the cycling worlds and stands among the foremost contenders for Paris.

Elsewhere at the inaugural event, which brought together road, track and mounting bike athletes, Mel Pemble led Canadians with three podium appearances while Keely Shaw matched Clement's pair.

WATCH | Pemble adds to haul with Parapan Am gold:

GOLD MEDAL: Victoria's Mel Pemble captures 3,000m C1-3 individual pursuit Parapan Am title

5 months ago
Duration 4:56
Mel Pemble of Victoria, B.C., roars back to win the gold medal in the women's 3,000-metre C1-3 individual pursuit at the Parapan American Games in Santiago.

Another first in the Para sphere occurred when Raphaëlle Tousignant debuted for Canada's men's Para ice hockey team, becoming the first woman ever to lace up her skates on the squad.

Fittingly, the Terrebonne, Que., native accomplished the feat during the first-ever world championship held in Canada. The Canadians would go on to win silver, with Tousignant doubling up when she led the women's team in scoring en route to another second-place finish at the Women's World Challenge in September.

Tousignant could be part of the team looking to take gold back from the American at the 2026 Paralympics, where Canada's Para Nordic team should also supply plenty of success after its record-showing 16-medal showing at worlds despite the retirement of the legendary Brian McKeever.

It all sets up for what could be deliciously successful next few years for Canadian Para athletes.

WATCH | Tousignant makes history:

Raphaëlle Tousignant becomes first woman to make Canadian Men’s Para Ice Hockey team

11 months ago
Duration 2:55
CBC Sports sits down with Raphaëlle Tousignant, teammate Tyler McGregor, and head coach Russ Herrington, ahead of the 2023 World Para Ice Hockey Championships in Moose Jaw, Sask.

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