Aurelie Rivard describes herself as a totally different person in the four years since her Paralympic debut.

Now 20 years old, the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., native enters the Rio de Janeiro Games as a favourite in the pool.

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    Off to Rio for the paralympics

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    “When I was in London, I was only 16 years old, I was a kid, I didn’t know what to expect,” Rivard said prior to leaving for Brazil. “I was going there like totally clueless, I was so impressed by everything, so amazed, I was just there to get some experience.

    “Now I’m kind of the girl to beat. It adds a little bit of pressure as well, but I really just want to go there and have the best swim meet of my life and hopefully bring medals home.”

    Rivard has developed into one of the best para-swimmers in the world since the 2012 London Games. She claimed five medals at the 2013 world championships in Montreal and collected a bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Last summer she won two gold and four total medals at the 2015 world championships, breaking Canadian records in the 50- and 400-metre freestyles.

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    Rivard topped off her impressive 2015 with six gold and one silver at the Parapan American Games in Toronto, which included a world record time of 59.17 seconds in the S10 100 freestyle final.

    Rivard took silver in the 400 freestyle in London and said she has learned to trust herself and have more self-confidence since.

    “I used to be a little girl, super tiny and shy and so impressed by the whole world,” Rivard said. “I thought everybody was better than me and everybody believed in me but me.”

    Canadian para-swimming head coach Craig McCord sees a different maturity and confidence in his young prodigy. He remembers a girl from when they first met in 2010 that “if you said boo to her, she would have cried.”

    Not anymore.

    “I have full confidence that she will rise to the occasion when the chips are down here as we head into Rio,” McCord said. “She’s got her work cut out but I’m more than confident of her and her coach’s preparation and they’ll be ready to go.”

    Veteran para-swimmer Benoit Huot, who will be competing in his fifth Paralympics in Rio, also has high hopes for Rivard.

    “Hopefully she’ll be around for the next 10 years and she’s going to have an amazing Games, I’m positive,” Huot said.

    Rivard, who has an impairment with her left hand, has set a goal of beating all her personal records in Rio. The majority of those records were set at the Parapans in 2015.

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    Another aspect working in Rivard’s favour is that she swims faster at the end of the summer.

    “If I do that, technically the medals should follow because I’m top three in the world in most of my events,” Rivard said. “I have a world record as well, so I want to break it. And in London, I won silver, so if I won gold, that would be great too.”

    Rivard said that she couldn’t watch enough of the Olympics while they were on TV in August. Seeing Canadian girls that she swims alongside while training, such as Olympic star Penny Oleksiak, is a motivator for her and her teammates when they arrive in Rio.

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    “We want to keep up with them,” Rivard said. “We used to win a lot more medals than them and now they won seven which is a lot for the Olympic swim team. It’s a little push, a little tap on the shoulder, ‘C’mon lets go.”‘