“It was a great race and I’m happy with the result,” Pierce exclaimed. And then she flashed an immense smile while holding Canada’s second swimming medal to the cameras as the many flashes made it shimmer.
Pierse had just become one of a very few Canadian women to win a medal in the history of the world aquatics championships - an exclusive club.
The breakthrough came in a classically Canadian race, the women’s 200 breaststroke. Along the way Pierse had set a new world record and joined former world record holder Alison Higson and 1984 Olympic gold medallist, Anne Ottenbrite, as legends of her discipline.
There is a wave of confidence surrounding Canadian swimming and Pierse shoulders much of the responsibility for renewed hope. She is not - repeat not - a flash in the pan, and although she wore the polyurethane suit that is receiving much of the credit for the obliteration of the FINA record books, her progression to the podium is traceable.
“People gave up on her a few years ago,” beamed the head coach of Swimming Canada, Pierre Lafontaine. “But we brought in her coach Josef Nagey from Hungary and we’ve had to work very hard but it’s all paying off.
Indeed, Annamay Pierse won a silver medal in this distance at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2007 and made the final at the Olympics in Beijing last summer where she finished a close sixth with a Canadian record.
Earlier this year in Toronto she set a short-course world record in a 25-metre pool at the Canadian championships and in the trials for Rome held a couple of weeks ago in Montreal, Pierse dallied with the long- course record established by American Rebecca Soni in Beijing.
Add to that, fuelled by a few McDonald’s burgers at the request of Nagey, Annamay Pierse led the way in the heats for the 200 breaststroke here in Rome and smashed the world championship record.
The silver medal is the one of the last bricks in the wall. In other words, Annamay Pierse has built the foundation for her success every step of the way.
She said all the right things when that medal was safely around her neck and she faced the hordes of media at these competitions.
“So many people have made this come together for me,” Pierce said solemnly. “My friends, family and my coach, I don’t know where I’d be without them. And I’d like to thank Jane Roos of the Canadian Athletes Now Fund she has always been so supportive of me.”
It was a very Canadian moment.
Pierce was not boastful but classy and thankful that so many mornings in the swimming pool had led to this shining day.
When asked one more time about missing the gold medal by two 10ths of a second and a touch of the wall she clenched her teeth and allowed herself a painful little grimace.
“I’m so happy,” she gasped. “But I have to tell you it feels bitter sweet.”
Coming in second can be like that.
So close to the perfect day and forced to celebrate the silver lining.
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