July 22, 1996
MYDEN MEDLEY A BIG HIT
RACE OF HIS LIFE LANDS BRONZE
By STEVE SIMMONS
ATLANTA -- Curtis Myden touched the wall, looked up and waited to find out what much of Canada already knew.
He had come away with this country's first swimming medal of the Atlanta Olympics, a bronze born of all that is remarkable about Canadian athletes.
He saw his name, his time and then raised his fist in a moment of excitement. He did all of that on a steamy night at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Centre, saving the best race of his life for the moment that mattered most.
And as he did, he put on display the very characteristics we hold so dear in our athletes. Passion. Tenacity. Heart. And obviously talent.
"I don't know if it has totally hit me,'' said an almost giddy Myden, belying the stoic personality that has become his swimming trademark.
He raced in the 400-metre individual medley, a race that has been so Canadian through the years. It was Alex Baumann's event. It is a race with many stories, four different strokes, eight laps of the pool, a test of endurance and grit.
"He was 10th at the last Olympics and now he's a bronze medallist,'' said Deryk Snelling, Myden's coach. "The only reason that happened was hard work. He pulled it off with hard work. He's what I call a journeyman, a worker. A lot of guys have more talent. But he had so much passion and tenacity in him and that won out.''
Myden led for the first 100 metres of the race, the butterfly portion. He then dropped to second place, then to third through the middle stages. But every time it looked as though he would falter or be caught, he willed himself to not let it slip away.
"I always knew I could raise it to a higher level,'' said Myden, who finished the race in four minutes 16.28 seconds, breaking his own Canadian record by more than half a second. His performance was in direct contrast to that of Joanne Malar, the Hamilton swimmer of equal expectation but less-than-equal performance.
And Myden, a 22-year-old Calgarian, needed his best night to edge Matthew Dunn of Australia, his Commonwealth Games rival, for the final medal position.
This wasn't just another Olympic event. On one side of Myden was American Tom Dolan, the world record holder. Beside Dolan was Eric Namesnik, the American silver medallist from Barcelona. On the other side of Myden was Luca Sacchi of Italy, the bronze medallist from the last Games.
The field, even without Jani Sievinen of Finland, a medal contender who didn't qualify for the final, was stacked.
"This was (Myden's) greatest international performance,'' said Dave Johnson, the national team swim coach. "It's nice to have a medal. It takes the pressure off (the team). We know we're not going to get blanked. We had some of those thoughts in our minds, mostly coming from you guys (media).''
Myden began swimming for Canada as a teenager. He has won medals for this country at the Commonwealth Games, at the Pan-Am Games, at so many international championships. But this was the big stage, with the world watching, and he has never been better.
"This is how you measure an athlete,'' said Snelling. "What does he do when it matters most? How does he come through? I don't think there was anything left at the end. It was his perfect race.''
Myden's mother and father sat among the pro-American crowd, as did his brother, his sister and his girlfriend. He smiled as he mentioned every one of them by name after the race. They were all here to give him something, but he gave them something - something to remember for the rest of their lives.
This was threatening to be an Olympics without Canadian heroes, a swimming Olympics of disappointment. But here on this hot Georgia Sunday, Myden stepped to the podium and was awarded a bronze medal while Canadian flags waved.
"I looked down the whole race and there was Curtis,'' said American Jon Urbanchek, who coached Dolan and Namesnik to the gold and silver medals, respectively.
"We just couldn't shake him. That's Curtis. He's always right there. You don't get rid of him so easily.''