By Jim Morris
Much of Benoit Huot’s Para-swimming career has been about proving what is possible.
Maybe that’s why it’s so difficult for Huot to say when he will retire from the sport. In his heart Huot can’t say it’s impossible that he will compete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
“I’ve had such a long career,” said the 33-year-old native of Longueuil, Que., who has set 50 world records in his S10 class. “Even now people say you will be in Tokyo. I laugh, but I can’t say no.
“I don’t think about Tokyo. I don’t think it’s possible for me to be there but at the same time you can never say never.”
When Huot won two silver and a bronze medal two years ago in Glasgow, Scotland, it was assumed he had competed at his final World Para Swimming Championships. He looked to have scripted a perfect storybook ending to his Paralympic career by winning a bronze medal in a personal best time last September in his final race to the 2016 Rio Paralympics.
But instead of closing the book Huot was back in the pool this year writing another chapter in his career.
“When I think back about Rio and Glasgow, it’s quite difficult to see I am still here today,” he said. “What is even more impressive is having a good time while doing it.”
Born with a club foot, Huot began swimming when he was eight. He has competed at five Paralympics and won 20 medals, including nine gold. He’s also won 29 medals in four Para-swimming World Championships.
Vince Mikuska, Swimming Canada’s senior coach of the Paralympic program, wasn’t totally surprised to see Huot return for at least one more year.
“I thought Ben did an amazing job last year of swimming to a medal and doing as well as he did in Rio,” said Mikuska. “It seemed like that might be an end point for him.
“I also know Ben loves swimming. He loves training. He loves doing what he’s doing. In that regard, it’s not surprising at all that he’s still in the pool. That’s what he loves to do.”
Huot’s year started with him being named to the Order of Canada. He did speaking engagements and working with children’s organizations. He also found time to finish some renovations on his home.
During this summer’s FINA World Championships in Budapest, Huot did broadcast work for Radio Canada. It was his first experience in calling a swim race live.
“That was very cool,” he said. “The first two days were quite difficult. You never realize how fast it’s going until you do it.
“I felt I was getting better from day to day. It’s a different role. Close to sport but definitely something I enjoyed doing.”
Despite his busy schedule Huot still managed to get in the pool and train with his coach Benoit Lebrun.
“The year overall was a bit of a mess, but a fun mess,” he said.
Huot will have the opportunity to experience another side of sport next year following his appointment as assistant chef de mission for Team Canada at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast Australia.
“I’m learning a lot,” he said about his mission staff role. “I am looking forward to learning even more while we are there.
“It’s not being an athlete but it’s quite close in a different role. Maybe one day I will be chef at a Paralympic or Commonwealth Games.”
Huot was training to compete at his fifth World Para Swimming Championships in Mexico City. With the world championships postponed due the recent devastating earthquake, Swimming Canada will host the Canadian Open, October 2-4, at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.
The Open will provide an opportunity for all of the Canadian athletes who were going to compete at the World Para Swimming Championships to race in the same competition window as the world championships would have occurred. It will also provide an opportunity for athletes to post times to be considered for 2018 Commonwealth Games selection.
Huot’s events are not included at the Commonwealth Games.
Doing as much as he did outside of the pool made it easier for Huot to return to training.
“I don’t think I would have been able to enjoy myself as much as I am right now if I didn’t a fun year out of the pool,” he said. “Even though I was training hard I was doing so many different things that took my head and my body out of my athlete role for at least six months after Rio.”
Mikuska said Huot continues to play an important role on the Para-swimming team.
“He’s been a good role model,” he said. “He’s been very positive and supportive of lots of people.
“I think that is rubbing off on some of the other athletes.”
Huot said as long as he feels competitive, and is enjoying himself, he will continue swimming. Once his career is finished, he hopes to stay involved in sport in some function.
“At some point I’m going to have to call it a day,” he said. “I hope . . . that I’m going to find something that (gives me) the passion as much as the sport of swimming. In my mind I see that sport, and being close to Para-sport in general, definitely will be something important for me after I am done competing.
“The plan in my mind is to go for another year. But again things can change if something comes up.”