Benoit Huot opened the 2012 Paralympic Games for Canada with a gold medal and a world record in the pool.
The Montreal swimmer will finish by carrying the Canadian flag at Sunday’s closing ceremony in London.
Huot was one of the faces of the Canadian team coming into London. The 28-year-old leaves with a complete set of gold, silver and bronze and brought his career total to 19 Paralympic medals, including nine gold.
“It’s been a great journey, my fourth Games,” Huot said Sunday. “I’m really proud of what I’ve done here in London.”
After winning five gold medals at the 2004 Paralympics, Huot expected to win more races in 2008 in Beijing.
He instead earned four bronze. That prompted soul searching about how he could get back on top of the podium in London when his competition would be even faster. Working with a sports psychologist helped him plot a course for London.
“When I was 16 I don’t think I needed sports psychology as much as I needed it now,” he said. “It was so important for me coming back from Beijing because for sure I was asking myself questions.”
Huot answered those questions on the first day of competition in London. He broke the world record in the 200 individual medley he’d set at the Canadian trials in March. Huot wept in the pool after his race and on the podium receiving his medal.
“He started off the game for us by winning the first medal and setting the tone for us,” said Canadian assistant chef de mission Elizabeth Walker-Young.
The Canadian team finished with 31 medals — seven gold, 15 silver and nine bronze. The swim team won 16 of those medals.
Huot set personal best times earning silver in the 400 freestyle and bronze in the 100 backstroke.
“It’s great to have the medals and bring them back home, but what I’m the most proud of is the last four years and the process to get here in London and the way I approached these Games,” Huot explained. “Leaving with those medals is the cherry on the cake.”
Huot was born with a club foot and competes in the S10 classification for athletes with minor physical impairements.
He assigned words to each of three previous Paralympic Games. At his first in Sydney, Australia, his experience was “magic”. In 2004, it was “performance” and in Beijing it was “stress.”
He wanted to get back to what he felt in Sydney, to enjoy the experience and feel the magic of the Paralympic Games “because they might be the last ones.”
Huot isn’t retiring from swimming yet, but is unsure he’ll compete at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
He’s tempted to continue to the 2015 Parapan American Games in Toronto, which might be a springboard to Rio for him.
His primary goal now is completing the five classes he needs to get his degree in communication and administration at the University of Quebec-Montreal.
“I’m getting older a bit and will be 32 for 2016,” Huot said. “I want to go a year at a time. A lot of things can happen in those four years.
“I wanted to come here and enjoy every single moment like they were the last ones, in the pool and outside of the pool. I believe I have accomplished that.”