Brent Hayden was among the last to know that he had finally hit the Olympic podium.
As the crowd at the London Aquatics Centre applauded, and fans back home in Canada roared at their television sets, the 28-year-old from Mission, B.C., spent a few seconds staring down the length of the pool at the scoreboard. Was he savouring the moment that had escaped him in Athens and Beijing? Or maybe, he was overcome with emotion at finally realizing a dream that started when he joined the Spartans Swim Club in Chilliwack at age five?
“Naw, it’s because my eyes don’t see so good. I wear glasses,” he told reporters after leaving the pool. Hayden just wasn’t quite sure whether if it was number three or an eight next to his name. “And I didn’t want to get all super excited for eighth place and look like an idiot.”
Any lingering doubts were erased a few minutes later at the medal ceremony when IOC member Dick Pound—the last Canadian to make a 100-metre freestyle Olympic final, 52-years ago in Rome—hung the bronze around his neck. Hayden, who for so long has been among the fastest swimmers on the planet, winning the world championships in 2007, adding a silver last year in Shanghai, was finally having his moment where it counted most. The first Canadian to ever win a medal in the Olympic swim meet’s showcase event.
He had almost given up hope: “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.” And truth be told after Beijing, so had many Canadians. Hayden was the favourite in 2008. And he had swum what ended up being the third fastest time of the meet in his 100m heats. But in the semi-finals, trying to conserve energy for a relay race, he eased up and ended up finishing 11th. It was a gross miscalculation that cost him a chance to race for a medal.
Tom Johnson his coach for the past dozen years, admits that he too had his doubts after the 2008 fiasco. “It’s not easy at this level. You make one mental error and the world crashes down on you. To have to wait four years to come back around and do it is a credit to him and everyone around him.”
“There are no easy swims in the Olympics.”
Hayden had been battling nerves the last couple of days. This morning, he awoke at 6 a.m., his heart pounding and was unable to get back to sleep. Throughout the day whenever he thought of the race it would happen again. And his back, which has been wonky since before Beijing, was in a bad way. He had it adjusted three times before the race.
But when the gun went off it all fell into place. No pressure like in Beijing, just a desire to finally meet his potential. Hayden’s time of 47.80 wasn’t even the fastest of his career, but it was good enough for third behind Nathan Adrian of the U.S. and James (The Missile) Magnussen of Australia, who finished at 47.52 and.53, with gold and silver separated by just one 100th of a second.
“Physically I wasn’t that fast, but emotionally and spiritually I had that extra push to help me go beyond what I was capable of,” said Hayden.
After five days, Canada is finally on the board in swimming. But Hayden’s Games aren’t over. Tomorrow morning, he’ll be back in the pool for the heats of the 50m Freestyle. The schedule left little time to celebrate—he skipped the medal press conference and decided against trekking over to the CTV studios for a live interview.
Hayden finally has his taste of Olympic glory and now he wants more.