Brent Hayden wins swimming bronze for Canada
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
Canada's Brent Hayden shows off his bronze medal after placing third in the 100-metre freestyle during the London 2012 Olympic Games, August 1, 2012. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)
LONDON - It started as the worst day of his life and ended like a dream.
Brent Hayden, Canada’s best swimmer in a rough era for the sport in his country, is finally and deservedly an Olympic medallist after a rocket start Wednesday night propelled him to a bronze medal in the men’s 100-metre freestyle.
A former world record holder and world champion, the Olympics had previously been a place where his hopes and expectations came to die, often in spectacular fashion. Those days are behind him now, however, as the speedster became just the second Canadian swimmer to win a medal in an Olympic pool since the Sydney Games in 2000.
“There are so many times when you can dream of something and a million out of a million and one times it won’t come true,” said Hayden, who kissed the starting block on his way out of the pool as he finally delivered what was so long expected out of him. “This is one of the things I’m very fortunate as a human being to have happen to me.
“It was all about finding my inner strength. It was just digging down deep, right into my soul.”
A cerebral 28-year-old, Hayden has long been philosophical about his sport and the inner drive required for success. His insides weren’t cooperating much on Wednesday, however as he edged towards the defining moment of his career.
“When I woke up this morning and the first time I was in an Olympic final and with all the stuff that happened in Beijing, I couldn’t help but think the best day of my life feels like the worst day of my life right now,” Hayden said. “It was so nerve-wracking. I woke up at 6 a.m. and my heart was just pounding thinking about the race.
“All through the day, I kept having these moments where my heart kept pumping and I had to say ‘No, not yet. You’ve got to keep calm.’”
Hayden remained just calm enough to focus on the quick started needed against a world-class field as he darted out to a lead in the first 25 metres. From there it was swim like hell until hitting the wall in a time of 47.80. American Nathan Adrian won gold in 47:52, a hundredth of a second in front of race favourite, James Magnussen of Australia.
When his time flashed on the scoreboard, Hayden seemed shocked at the result - that and completely out of gas. He tried to exit the pool but set on the deck for a moment to summon his strength and let the glory of the moment sink in.
“My legs just felt too heavy to step up,” Hayden said. “I took a moment to think about what I just did and I gethered my strength.
“Physically I probably wasn’t that fast, but emotionally and spiritually I had that extra push.”
Coached by Tom Johnson, Hayden has had an up-and-down career filled with equal parts success and heartbreak. After his first Olympics in Athens eight years ago, he was savagely beaten by riot police after inadvertently walking into a protest late one night. The Beijing debacle, in which he completely miscalculated his speed and failed to qualify for the final as reigning world champion set him back as well.
But in the past year the Mission, B.C. native summoned the form for one last run at the medal he wanted so badly.
“There was no pressure,” Hayden said. “Beijing was pressure. I learned a lot over the last four years. This time it was about maturity. I just had to show what I was capable of. I couldn’t hold anything back in this.”