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Canada's Aurelie Rivard won bronze in the 50-metre freestyle at the Tokyo Paralympics, on Aug. 25.Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Aurélie Rivard has won Canada’s first swimming medal at the Tokyo Paralympics.

The 25-year-old from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., finished third Wednesday in the 50-metre freestyle behind Russian Anastasiia Gontar and Chantalle Zijderveld of the Netherlands.

As the reigning champion in the event, Rivard was the favourite.

“The race was disappointing,” Rivard said from Japan. “I would have been proud if I had swam a good race, but I didn’t. I wanted to defend my title. The other girls deserved it. They did a better job than me.”

Earlier, Keely Shaw from Saskatoon captured Canada’s first medal at the Games, a bronze in cycling’s C4 3,000-metre individual pursuit. The 27-year-old crossed the finish line in three minutes 48.342 seconds in her Paralympic debut.

A silver medalist in 2019, she took up Para cycling in 2009 after experiencing paralysis on the left side of her body when she fell off a horse. Australia’s Emily Petricola won the gold, while Shawn Morelli of the United States was second.

Rivard won three golds and one silver at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro and was Canada’s flag bearer at the closing ceremonies. She will attempt to repeat as the winner in the 100-metre freestyle on Saturday and in the 400-metre freestyle on Sept. 1.

Born with an undeveloped left hand, she competes in the S10 class. Para athletes are classified from 1 to 10 based on their level of impairment. The lower the number, the more they are impaired.

Gontar won in 27.38 seconds. Zijderveld finished just four-tenths of a second behind at 27.42. Rivard took the bronze in 28.11 seconds at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

She learned to swim at the age of 3 and became a competitive swimmer at 11. She won four medals at the International Paralympic Committee world championships in Montreal in 2015 and six at the Parapan American Games in Toronto two years later. There, she was the most decorated female athlete across all sports.

She said the pandemic made training especially difficult in 2020. The Paralympics were postponed and rescheduled for this year.

“It was challenging,” she said. “It was hard to train for something when you didn’t know when it would happen. It felt like it kept slipping through our fingers.”

She felt her timing was off during the race. It was her first major competition in a year and a half.

“I lost my reference points in the pool,” she said. “I understand what happened, but it was definitely weird.

“It wasn’t what I wanted, but it is still a special feeling to stand on a podium and represent Canada.”