Benoit Huot hesitates at the mention of retirement.
As the veteran Canadian swimmer heads into his fifth Paralympics, he isn’t thinking too much about how many Games he may have left, but admits he’s going to savour every moment in Brazil.
“I’ll finish with Rio and I’ll re-evaluate after the Games if I have another year in me and if I do, I’ll go year-by-year,” Huot said this week at Toronto’s Pan Am Sports Centre. “I’m 32 now and I think it’s really difficult to put myself in the mindset of that I’m going for another full cycle.”
The Longueuil, Que., native has had an illustrious career that includes 19 Paralympic medals — nine of which are gold. Huot, who was born with a disability in his right leg commonly known as club foot, set a world record in the SM10 200-metre individual medley at the 2012 London Games, finishing the race in two minutes 10.01 seconds.
He also took silver in the 400 freestyle and captured bronze in the 100 backstroke in London. Huot’s best Paralympics were in Athens in 2004 when he won five gold and a silver.
The five-foot-eight, 154-pound swimmer is coming off a successful 2015 season that saw him win three medals at the world championships and three more at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto, including gold in the 400-metre freestyle.
His career hasn’t come without disappointment, however. Despite collecting four bronze at the Beijing Games in 2008, he missed the podium in the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly, events in which he thrived four years earlier.
“He probably could have walked away from swimming after Beijing, it was that rough of an experience for him,” Canadian head coach Craig McCord said. “But he chose not to and I should call him a bit of a renaissance man because he went back to the drawing board, he figured out what he needed to do and it was a slow, hard battle back.
“That picture of him with his arms spread out winning Canada’s first gold medal in the whole London Paralympics four years ago, that was the completion of the renaissance for him.”
McCord, who will retire as Canada’s coach after the Rio Games, has known Huot for 16 years and says his training has been strong.
“I’ve never seen him as dedicated in the focus as he’s been in the last year and a half with the possibility that he does know it could be the end of the road for him, so he wants to make sure he leaves on his terms,” McCord said.
His career has followed a similar path to that of Michael Phelps, the most decorated athlete in Olympic history. Phelps, who is a year younger than Huot, also got his international start at the 2000 Sydney Games and retired at the conclusion of Rio earlier this month.
The two first met at the 2005 world championships in Montreal and have encountered each other a couple times since.
“I think without even knowing Michael that well, I’m pretty sure what he’s living every day at age 31 and after five Olympic Games, we live similar things without even knowing each other,” Huot said.
“I inspire myself a lot with what he’s done and because we’ve had a similar path, obviously in a different world.”
Now a veteran, Canada’s flag-bearer at the London 2012 closing ceremony hopes that he’s been able to pass down knowledge to some of his younger Canadian teammates that includes 13-year-old Danielle Dorris.
“I’m very pleased to see where our sport is going so if this is it for me, I feel like there’s a great legacy behind,” he said. “I feel like I’m leaving at a good place. I don’t know what I’m going to do after but maybe I can still help.”
The Paralympics open Wednesday in Rio. Canada is sending 162 athletes and is aiming for a top-16 finish in the overall medal standings.Report Typo/Error