When it comes to winning swim races, Brent Hayden speaks with a voice of experience.
“It's just get up on the blocks, dive in, swim your distance, get your hand on the wall first,” he said, after doing that in the 100-metre freestyle at the Olympic trials Friday.
The 28-year-old from Mission, B.C., will race in his third Olympic Games for Canada this summer in London. Richard Hortness of Medicine Hat, Alta., was second behind Hayden and fast enough to qualify for the team as well.
Colin Russell of Burlington, Ont., and Tommy Gossland of Nanaimo, B.C., were third and fourth respectively to round out the men's freestyle relay team. Russell joins his younger sister Sinead, who qualified earlier in the 100 backstroke, on the team.
Julia Wilkinson of Stratford, Ont., made the Olympic squad in a second event and Regina's Erica Morningstar will join her in the 200-metre individual medley.
Montreal's Audrey Lacroix will race the women's 200-metre butterfly at the Games for the second time in her career.
The Paralympic trials are running in conjunction with the Olympic trials. Eight-time Paralympic champion Benoit Huot of Longueuil, Que., won his third race in as many nights with a victory in the men's 100-metre freestyle.
After stepping on every international swimming podium except the Olympic dais during his career, Hayden is ready for anything in London.
“Nothing surprises me any more. I know what to expect,” he said. “I've learned to go and attack races just like they're any other swim meet instead of putting Olympics, world championships or Commonwealth Games up on a big pedestal.”
Hayden won world championship gold in the 100 freestyle in 2007, tying for first with Filippo Magnini of Italy. Hayden also won a silver medal at last year's world championships.
An Olympic medal has eluded him. Hayden hoped for two medals at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, but back problems hampered his preparation. He didn't make the 100 final and the relay team finished fifth.
The men's freestyle final was the marquee event Friday at Olympic Park Pool with people standing two or three deep around the railing in some sections.
Hayden wasn't that impressed by his time of 48.53 because he'd gone an easy 48.68 in the morning heats.
“When you go 48.6 in the heats and you kind of shut it down the last 10 metres . . . you're kind of thinking ‘I've got something bigger in me,“’ Hayden said. “I think my fitness level was fast enough to go, say, 47.9 and match what I did last summer, but it just came down to execution.
“I was definitely trying to go out fast and that's basically what it's going to take at the Olympics. You've got to go out and outlast your other competitors. There's no room in there for feeling out the field.”
Hortness finished in 49.21. He says the swimmers chasing Hayden have a “love-hate” relationship with the man who is so difficult to beat in the sprint, but who also helps them get faster.
“I don't think there's any question that Brent is one of the favourites,” Hortness said of the upcoming Olympics.
Wilkinson is a workhorse. She swam 11 races in Beijing. In addition to qualifying in the 100 backstroke and 200, she's set her sights on the 100 freestyle and 200 backstroke as well
“Unfortunately the 100 back and the 200 I.M. kind of conflict, so I might have to make some hard decisions going into London,” she said.
The 24-year-old wears sparkly, gold boots as her deck footwear.
“I had these awesome maroon high-stop shoes in 2010 and then I had glow-in-the-dark shoes last year.” she explained. “I was like 'I've got to go out with a bang and get something good for my walkout for Olympic trials and the Olympics.’
“I saw those online. I asked my fiance ‘is that too much money to spend on something a little bit elaborate?' He said ‘no, if it makes you swim fast go get them.’ They've brought me good luck so far.”
Competition concludes Sunday when the Olympic swim team will be named.
Swimming Canada is picking one or two swimmers per event, depending on whether the top two swim under an Olympic qualifying time. Otherwise, it's the event winner who meets the time standard who gains a berth.
“We're about trying to race, not trying to train to get times,” national team coach Pierre Lafontaine said. “That's why we're doing our trials like this. Touch the wall (first) and you go.”
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