Canadian swimmer Benoit Huot earned a boatload of medals over a two-decade career that included podium appearances at five straight Paralympic Games and at countless international meets.
Reminiscing about his achievements brings a smile to Huot’s face. Each result has a story.
There were his victories in Sydney as a teenager. His domination in Athens four years later. Winning gold in London after coming up short as a favourite in Beijing. One last Paralympic bronze in Rio.
All excellent achievements, but all come behind the Order of Canada insignia he received two years ago.
“I think it’s the medal that makes me the most proud,” Huot said. “Obviously the career is part of it. But what makes me the most proud today is the evolution of the movement.”
Huot, who announced his retirement Tuesday in Montreal, started swimming competitively at age 10.
He was winning major titles four years later, taking gold in the 1,500-metre open water race at the 1998 world championships in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Huot, whose disability is a club foot, raced in the S10 classification. He made an impressive Paralympic debut in 2000 with three gold and three silver medals.
The Paralympic scene was much different back then. Huot, from Longueuil, Que., recalled his first gold medal generating a single sentence mention in a major Montreal newspaper.
“It was frustration,” Huot recalled. “At that time when I was competing, I didn’t realize what the Games were all about. But coming back (home), you’re like, ‘Wait, why did no one talk about it? Why did no one recognize what we do?’
“It was better in Athens, better in Beijing, better in London, better in Rio and it’s going to be even better in Tokyo. So we saw the evolution.”
There are more disciplines and events now, television is on board, spectators are packing venues and media interest has picked up.
As Huot noted in a recent sitdown interview in Toronto, awareness has improved over the years but there is plenty of work to be done.
“It’s the way we were able to go from late 1990s to today and saw a complete shift in the way Canadians pursue the Paralympics,” he said. “The way we were able to educate Canadians on who we are and what we do and what’s our objective. Just to make our place in that sporting world where it’s dominated by pro sport and Olympics.
“That makes me the most proud about where the para-athlete is being able to be positioned nowadays. When I leave sport now, I feel like there’s a mission accomplished.”
Huot finished with 20 career Paralympic medals and reached the podium dozens of times at world championships, Parapan Am Games, Commonwealth Games and other top meets.
He broke over 60 world records in his category.
Now 35, Huot returned to school last summer. He admits that the 2020 Paralympics were on his mind, but his MBA program at Queen’s University is a full-time commitment.
“It was time,” Huot said of retirement. “After five Games, in me there’s always that competitive side. But I don’t think I could have made it to Tokyo and be where I would love to be (physically) and compete against the best in the world.”
Huot hopes to stay involved in sport and plans to acquire the tools for a potential leadership role down the road.
“This is my reasoning about going back to school with the objective and the hope of being in a position where I can influence,” Huot said. “Be creative, help the Paralympic brand and the athletes.
“The ultimate dream is to see that Paralympic gold is worth the same in the eyes of everyone around the world as the Olympic gold.”