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Olympics2012Perseverance, sacrifice define Canada's Brent Hayden

Posted: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 | 09:03 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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Canada's Brent Hayden bites on his long-awaited Olympic bronze medal following his third-place finish in the men's 100-metre freestyle race on Wednesday. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press) Canada's Brent Hayden bites on his long-awaited Olympic bronze medal following his third-place finish in the men's 100-metre freestyle race on Wednesday. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

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Canadian swimmer Brent Hayden has battled through injury and personal heartbreak to fulfill a life-long dream of being an Olympic medallist.
The reaction of Brent Hayden could've told a thousand stories.

There he was, staring up at the clock after swimming in the men's Olympic 100-metre final on Wednesday.

Once his name appeared in the "3" position, an exuberant Hayden justifiably slammed his fist into the water, signifying he had earned a bronze medal.

The jubilation was evident. So, too, was the pain of his past.

Looking back at the Mission, B.C., native's arduous road to London, few could fault him for possibly feeling significantly older than his 28 years.

Prior to Ryan Cochrane's Olympic 1,500m freestyle bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games, Hayden had been the face of Canadian swimming.

But before his climb toward Olympic glory came adversity, and plenty of it.

Athens nightmare

After completing his events at the 2004 Athens Games, Hayden and some of the other athletes were enjoying a night on the town. As the group came out of a nightclub in the wee hours of the morning, Hayden realized he was walking into a protest.

While attempting to take refuge in another crowded pub to avoid the melee, Hayden was grabbed and dragged back onto the street by a police officer, where he was beaten with batons and kicked by several cops. A complaint to the Greek government proved pointless, leaving Hayden emotionally scarred.

Two years later, Hayden was hitting his stride despite being diagnosed with asthma.

It culminated in his finest professional moment to that point, one that saw Hayden become the co-winner in the men's 100m freestyle at the 2007 world championships with Italian Filippo Magnini.

The victory in Australia placed him among the nation's greats as he joined legends Alex Baumann and the late Victor Davis as the only Canadians ever to win an individual gold medal at a world championship.

Still, the accomplishment was bittersweet.

Prior to leaving for Australia, Hayden visited his grandfather on his death bed, promising him to bring home a medal. Four days before his race, Hayden got word from home that his grandfather had died.

"He was the last person I was thinking about before I got onto the block and my first thought after I realized I won the gold medal," Hayden told me prior to the Beijing Games. "It was really hard trying not to cry in my interviews because I knew I wasn't going to see him when I got home."

Team before individual glory

Beijing should've been the big payoff. Hayden, now battling back problems after suffering an injury from a photo shoot of all things, remained a legitimate Olympic contender for the men's freestyle race.

A tactical mistake cost him, however. The error wasn't a mental one, but rather a sacrifice he was making for the Canadian team.

During the semifinal heat, Hayden decided to conserve his energy in order to be fresh for the 4x100m freestyle, an event Canada had been preordained a podium favourite.

As if the swimming gods were playing another cruel joke, Hayden not only failed to qualify for the individual final, the Canadian team finished sixth overall, more than two seconds behind the third-place Australians.

The kicker: Hayden broke a Canadian record in the opening leg with a time of 47.56 seconds, which would've earned him the bronze had he qualified for the freestyle final.

Unfazed, he didn't complain and retirement was never an option.

With the help of South African great Roland Schoeman, Hayden worked diligently on his starts, eventually shaving enough time off the only area of weakness.

True to Hayden's grit, he battled through the final 25 metres in pain on Wednesday before finally earning his long-awaited dream: an Olympic medal.

Only the Canadian's wedding to fiance Nadina Zarifeh in the coming weeks will put a bigger smile on his face.

Perseverance and sacrifice.

It's the two traits that best define Brent Hayden.

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