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October 20, 2000

Canada finished the day with nine medals overall

Canadian Press

Sydney, Australia — Toronto's Elisabeth Walker and Calgary's Jessica Sloan each won gold in world-record times Friday in their respective women's 200-metre individual medley finals on the first day of swimming at the Paralympic Games.

In all, 10 world records were set in the pool Friday. World champions Benoit Huot of St-Hubert, Que., and Stephanie Dixon of Caledon, Ont., both 16, added gold and silver respectively in their 200 individual medley races.

The Paralympic swim competition features different finals for different disabilities in each discipline.For Sloan, it was her fifth world record. "It's a big weight off my shoulders to start off this well," said the 17-year-old, chosen Swimming Canada's female swimmer with a disability of the year in 1999 after winning six gold at the 1998 world championships. "The big thing for me was nerves and keeping my cool. I had done the training."

Canada finished the day with nine medals overall.

Walker, who has no forearms or hands, is competing at her third Paralympics and Friday's win was her first career gold at the Games and second medal overall. She was third in the 100 backstroke in Atlanta. "I went in the race ranked second so I'm not surprised to win," said Walker, one of five returnees among the 24-member swim team from the 1996 Games. "But I feel ecstatic to get this first gold. "The difference with four years ago was mental preparation. I convinced myself I could do it."

In other swimming events, Benoit Huot of Saint-Hubert, Que., set a Games record and won gold in the 200-metre individual medley while Stephanie Dixon of Caledon, Ont., won silver in her class for the 200-metre IM. "I'm thrilled but I have to admit I was surprised with my time," Hout said. "I love being part of such a strong team — it pushes me to perform."

On the track, Chantal Petitclerc, the defending Paralympic champion, won a silver medal in the 100 metres. American gold medalist Cheri Becerra broke Petitclerc's world record in the event.

Meanwhile, in cycling, Julie Cournoyer of Longueuil, Que., with driver Alexandre Cloutier of Quebec won bronze, Canada's first medal of the Games, in the mixed tandem pursuit.

Canada is currently fifth in the medal standings behind France (14), the U.S. (13), Australia (12) and Spain (11).

Canada won 71 medals at the Atlanta Games in 1996.

Canada impressed on its first day in the pool. "Other teams are asking us what makes us so good and the answer is easy," said swim coach Andrew Craven "We are the only country with a fully integrated program. All our athletes train in able-bodied programs."

Nine of Canada's 13 performances Friday were personal bests.

Sloan, who has the equivalent of half a hand, said her goal is to qualify for the 2004 Olympics in Athens. "I think it's attainable if I put my mind to it," she said.

On Saturday the women's basketball team, who have won the last two Paralympic gold medals, open with a game against Mexico while 11 Canadians are in finals in track and field. Swimming continues with Canadians entered in several events.

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