by Jason Roessle, Carol Aun and Dan Kinvig
Swimmer Brent Hayden tasted Olympic glory on Wednesday, winning bronze in the 100-metre freestyle.
Back home in Mission, cheering, whistling and even some crying filled the Leisure Centre as approximately 150 people watched the final on TV.
Clocking in at 47.80 seconds, Hayden’s time was good enough to earn a spot on the podium in London, England alongside gold medal winner Nathan Adrian from the United States (47.52) and silver medalist James Magnussen of Australia (47.53).
Hayden had struggled at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, failing to qualify for the 100m free final after winning gold at the world championships the previous year.
He erased that disappointment on Wednesday, and notched the Canadian swim team’s first podium finish of the London Games.
“With 25 metres left to go, right when it started to hurt, I told myself, ‘Brent, this is going to be your last 100 freestyle ever – just go for it,'” he told CTV in a post-race interview. “And I did.
“I’ve got way too many people to thank, and I know there’s a bunch of people out in Mission right now at the Leisure Centre watching me. Knowing they all came out to watch is a huge inspiration for me.”
Hayden got off to a great start in the final and was second at the 50m mark, trailing Brazil’s Cesar Cielo by one hundredth of a second.
He said becoming an Olympic medalist was “just amazing.”
“You’ve always got to have that little bit of doubt in the back of your mind, but something always comes forward and says, ‘You know man, everybody in here has got a shot just as much as you do. Just go for it.’
“I couldn’t hold anything back.”
The packed lobby of the Leisure Centre exploded with cheers every time Hayden’s picture was up on screen. The lively crowd gradually got louder and louder after the Hayden’s race began and peaked when Hayden touched the wall and a bronze medal was secured.
Dozens of Mission Marlins swim club members – the club with which Hayden began his competitive swimming journey – brought handmade signs to cheer on their hometown hero.
“The children are very excited,” Marlins coach Shannon Key said before Hayden’s swim. “Some got up and watched his heats at 2 a.m.”
The Marlins are inspired now more than ever in their sport, Key added.
Seven-year-old Hailey Pearson, who just started swimming with the Marlins this year, said she was excited to watch Hayden swim and seeing him accomplish so much makes her want to try for the world stage.
For longtime swim parents like Linda Zeifflie – whose three children are all Marlins and whose husband, Brent, was one of Hayden’s first coaches – the medal win cemented Hayden’s standing as an exceptional role model for the younger swimmers.
She added that a photo of Hayden at about seven years old, gangly and awkward, was plastered on the family fridge for years to show that “even little uncoordinated kids could be a champion.”
UFV student Aieisha Luyken recalled being in the same swimming pool as Hayden when she started out in the sport.
“We were on the same team, but he was in the senior group when I started swimming,” said Luyken. “It’s cool seeing someone from Mission do well.”
Luyken, who is a part of her university’s basketball team, notes Hayden, as well as Olympic basketball players Kim Smith and Teresa Gabriele (also from Mission), are all role models.
“They’re great motivation for any athlete.”
Even non-swimmers were caught up in the action. Candace Lauchlin brought her three children to the Leisure Centre to watch the much-anticipated event.
Even though her children play other sports, she said seeing Hayden in the pool shows them what can be done.
“This is awesome. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said Lauchlin. “It’s a great moment for us and I’m so proud of him.”
The Leisure Centre is opening up its doors for Olympic fans. A large projection screen has been set up in the lobby and it will not come down until after the Olympics, said Stephanie Key, director of Mission’s Parks and Rec department.
“This is a great way to bring the community together, and it’s a way for to keep an eye on Mission’s athletes in London,” she added.