After suffering his biggest heartbreak at the 2008 Beijing Games, Canada's Brent Hayden is finally an Olympic medallist.
The Mission, B.C., native, who is set to get married on Aug. 19, gave the Canadians their first medal in the pool when he earned a bronze in the men's 100-metre freestyle on Wednesday in London.
A revved up Hayden began strong and finished in a time of 47.80 seconds.
“Tonight was just [about] digging down deep right into my soul,” said Hayden. “I had that extra push to push me beyond what I was capable of. I kind of had the urge to kiss the starting block because I just never knew I could love Lane 7 so much."
American Nathan Adrian won gold as he touched the wall in 47.52, while pre-Olympic favourite James Magnussen of Australia earned silver in 47.53. The one-hundredth of a second victory was the closest margin possible.
Hayden has been a mainstay in this event, winning the 2007 co-world title, plus a sliver last year. However, the disappointment in Beijing still resonated with the 28-year-old swimmer as a tactical mistake cost him a place in the final.
Had he swum the Canadian record of 47.56 seconds — a time he nailed in the opening leg of the 4x100 freestyle relay in Beijing — Hayden would have secured a bronze medal.
Back and shoulder issues continued to limit Hayden this year, but he was in great form on Wednesday, although he felt some tenderness in his back during the morning.
“My back was not doing good today either,” said Hayden. “[I had] three spinal adjustments trying to get it to settle down.”
At the turn, he was second heading toward the finish. He admitted to feeling pain in the last final 25 metres although he didn't show it.
Hayden maintained his composure to edge two-time London gold medallist Yannick Agnel of France by 0.04th of a second to fulfill his Olympic dream.
“There are so many times when you can dream of something but a million out of a million and one times it won’t come true. This was one of the things that I was very fortunate as a human being to have happen to me,” said Hayden, who received his medal from Canadian and IOC delegate Dick Pound.
Credit should be given to Canada’s head coach Tom Johnson, who realized Hayden needed to improve his starts in order to make a podium spot in London possible. With the help of funding from Canada's Own The Podium program, Johnson was able to bring in South African Roland Schoeman about 18 months ago.
The three-time Olympic medallist, widely regarded as one of the best starters in the world in his day, worked with Hayden on his starts for several months.
One of the main components in altering Hayden's approach at the starting block was making his entry shallower, allowing for a smoother transition toward his first strokes.
The training worked beautifully as Hayden shaved at least a 10th of a second off his times.
"I honestly believe that was great patience for Tom Johnson to go through all this," said CBC Sports swimming analyst Byron MacDonald. "It's a game of inches and it took literally years to be able to change Brent's starts.
"Brent usually has the best back end of anybody in the world — other than Magnussen. So that was basically the key to getting down in the first leg. If he's in the race after the first leg he's fine. He's a great closer."
Canadian women place 4th in 4x200m freestyle
The Canadian women finished fourth in the 4x200m freestyle, clocking a collective time of 7:50.65. It was the best result for Canada since this event gained Olympic status in 1996.
The Americans, featuring Missy Franklin, took home the gold in 7:42.92, with Australia (7:44.41) finishing second and France (7:47.49) earning the final podium spot.
The victory gave Franklin her second gold medal of the Games.
Other Canadian results
- Martha McCabe of Toronto qualified for Thursday’s final of the women's 200m breaststroke after finishing fourth in her semifinal heat.
- Tera Van Beilen, of Oakville, Ont., finished seventh in her qualifying heat in 2:27.70 and did not advance.
- Julia Wilkinson, of Stratford, Ont., finished seventh in her semifinal heat of the women’s 100m freestyle and failed to advance.
- Toronto's Tobias Oriwol, finished seventh in his semifinal heat of the men’s 200m backstroke and failed to advance.
- In the men's 200 individual medley, Andrew Ford, of Guelph, Ont., finished first in his qualifying heat in 2:00.28. He finished seventh in his semifinal heat in 2:01.58 and did not advance to the final.