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Hayden thrives in swimming's post-suit era

Posted: Thursday, March 31, 2011 | 10:36 AM

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Compared to most elite swimmers, Brent Hayden is a late bloomer.

That said, the former world champion and current No.1-ranked man in the 100-metre freestyle has blossomed into an aquatic predator as London 2012 approaches.
hayden-101009-584.jpgCanadian swimmer Brent Hayden won both men's sprint events at last year's Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. (Matt King/Getty Images)

Compared to most elite swimmers, Brent Hayden is a late bloomer.

That said, the former world champion and current No.1-ranked man in the 100-metre freestyle has blossomed into an aquatic predator as London 2012 approaches.

"The Olympic season began when David Beckham kicked that soccer ball into the crowd at the closing ceremony in Beijing," Hayden wrote in an email from Victoria, the site of this weekend's Canadian trials for the upcoming world championships.

"I'm not promising anyone a gold medal at the world championships in Shanghai," he continued.  "But I will promise that my competitors will fear and respect me because they know what I'm capable of in that 100M freestyle."

This is one Canadian fish they should be wary of.

"He's been remarkably consistent the past four years," says CBC analyst Byron MacDonald, who swam against Mark Spitz at the 1972 Olympics and now coaches at the University of Toronto.  

"Hayden did not start serious year-round swimming until he was nearly 16. He wasn't battle-hardened through our tough age-group system his whole life, and so his confidence didn't match his talent.

"Now, he's way past that."

The proof is resounding.

In 2006 Hayden won gold at the Pan Pacific championships and followed up with a tie for gold at the 2007 worlds in Melbourne. He posted the third-fastest time in the world in 2008, then missed the world championship podium by .02 seconds in Rome in 2009.

Hayden was the only swimmer in the field not wearing one of the space-age polyurethene suits, which are now forbidden.

"World records were a mockery," Hayden says of that season. "No one cared about who won the race, but rather which suit the winner was wearing. A year later with a level playing field [after the suits were banned] I finished the 2010 season ranked No. 1 in the World."

That's ahead of Michael Phelps, the American who won eight gold medals in Beijing. Hayden beat Phelps last season, and then dominated in winning two gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, where the U.S. did not compete.

"My confidence is unshaken," Hayden says.

And that makes sense.  

Canada's big fish has been lured by the promise of the ultimate prize in London. He's getting more aggressive. Those who get in his way may face dangerous waters ahead.

Editor's Note: Watch live coverage of the Canadian swim trials on Saturday, April 2 at 4 p.m. ET on CBC Television and CBCSports.ca.

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