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Canada's Brittany Maclean competes in the women's 400-metre freestyle heat at the Aquatic Centre in the Olympic Village at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London on Sunday, July 29, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Canada's Brittany Maclean competes in the women's 400-metre freestyle heat at the Aquatic Centre in the Olympic Village at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London on Sunday, July 29, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

London 2012

Canadian swimmers off to tough start at London Olympics Add to ...

Two days in and already the 2012 Olympic swim meet has become the London Follies for Canadian athletes. There has been controversy, disappointment, tears and all manner of surprises.

It started Saturday with Ryan Cochrane making the final of the 400-metre freestyle, only to be bumped by a successful South Korean protest. On Sunday, things continued on their wonky way with: Blake Worsley winning his heat but not making the semi-final of the 200 free; Julia Wilkinson swimming the 100 backstroke and saying she saw God; Tera Van Beilen finishing tied with a Jamaican in the 100 breast and having to compete in a swim-off after the evening’s other events.

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Had she ever done that before?

“Once when I was 12 years old,” she said.

Topping a quirky 48 hours, the first Canadian to actually race with a medal on the line was the team’s youngest member, 18-year-old Brittany MacLean. She fought her way into Lane 7 of the women’s 400 freestyle final and splashed alongside the likes of world-record holder Federica Pellegrini of Italy, defending gold Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Adlington of Britain and the new Olympic champ, Camille Muffat of France.

MacLean wasn’t happy with her showing but was pleased to have finished seventh-best in the world.

“I knew I was in a really tough field and I knew it was going to be a bit of a battle the whole way through,” she said. “Wasn’t completely successful with staying with the pack as I wanted. I ended up out-touching one person. I’ll take seventh place at the Olympics.”

MacLean, who set a Canadian record in her Sunday morning dip, has provided Canada’s best swim moment to this point. Everything else has lived up to the Olympics’ unpredictable nature and what head coach Randy Bennett had told the swimmers before they arrived here – that they were going to need a little luck to go along with their skills.

“That’s just the way the Olympics are,” Bennett said after his swimmer, Cochrane, was dropped from the final after a successful appeal called for Park Tae-hwan’s reinstatement. Park had originally been disqualified for a false start but an International Swimming Federation (FINA) investigation overturned the decision.

Undaunted, the Canadians pushed back on Sunday, with Wilkinson and Sinead Russell advancing to the 100 back semi-final, To get there, Wilkinson said she worked so hard over the last 20 metres, “I think I saw God. He was singing The Final Countdown.” Before the race, Wilkinson saw a toilet and threw up because of nerves.

After her semi-final swim, she choked back her emotion several times and wiped away tears.

“I did everything I could,” Wilkinson said of being one-tenth of a second shy off the final. “Ninth is horrible. It’s so close but I thought when I was fifth [in her heat] it probably wasn’t going to happen.”

It didn’t, and it didn’t happen for Van Beilen or Jillian Tyler, either. The two Ontario swimmers raced in separate semi-finals; Tyler finished seventh in hers and didn’t move on. Van Beilen posted the same time as Jamaican Alia Atkinson and had to race her again in a two-woman swim-off that Atkinson took right from the start.

“It was mentally hard coming off a race knowing you had to do it again. I tried to get set mentally,” Van Beilen said before wishing her Jamaican counterpart the best in Monday’s final. “It was fun. At least I got another race.”

The Canadian men’s 4x100 relay team was eyeing a spot in the final eight but didn’t advance beyond the heats. Brent Hayden, Richard Hortness, Colin Russell and Tommy Gossland competed against the front runners from France. The French won the gold medal by defeating the Americans and Russians in a remarkably contested event.

Follow on Twitter: @AllanMaki