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Canada's Brent Hayden kisses his starting block following his third place finish in the men's 100-meter freestyle swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012. (Matt Slocum/AP)
Canada's Brent Hayden kisses his starting block following his third place finish in the men's 100-meter freestyle swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012. (Matt Slocum/AP)

London 2012

Olympic swimming was a meet of beginnings and ends Add to ...

It was an Olympic swim meet in which the Chinese celebrated, the Americans mopped the pool deck with their rivals and one star exited (Michael Phelps) and another emerged (Missy Franklin).

For Canada, the moments were few but not without significance.

Brent Hayden’s bronze medal in his last individual 100-metre Olympic freestyle was an emotional sendoff.

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Ryan Cochrane’s silver medal in the 1,500 freestyle Saturday featured a watery duel with Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia, with Cochrane grinding it out to the end.

Those two performances helped Swimming Canada come close to its stated goal of winning three medals at the London Aquatics Centre.

Where the team didn’t come so close was in putting athletes among the final eight.

Swimming Canada chief executive officer and national head coach Pierre Lafontaine was looking for 15 swimmers in the finals of their event. Seven did the job, including first-time Olympians Brittany MacLean, Martha McCabe and Sinead Russell.

Hayden, who retired after helping the Canadian men’s 4x100 medley relay team make the final, insisted those were accomplishments worth lauding given the calibre of the 2012 meet in London.

“We’ve seen a lot of people step up with best times, we’ve seen Canadian records break, some people making the finals that had never finaled before, and some really close ones, too,” Hayden said.

“I think in the grand scheme of things, with the people we have, we’ve done an amazing job … As long as we keep that momentum building, I think we’re going to see more success come from more diverse events.”

Cochrane’s success marked Canada’s first silver medal in the pool since Marianne Limpert captured one in Atlanta in 1996.

At 23, he is young enough to plot another shot at Chinese rival Sun Yang, who won gold in the 400 free and set a world record winning gold in the 1,500 free.

In London, Yang became the first Chinese male swimmer to win Olympic gold.

Female counterpart Ye Shiwen also won two gold medals (in the 200 and 400 individual medley) and was subjected to suggestions her rapid rise to the world ranks were fuelled by performance-enhancing drugs. Yang took exception with that.

“Those doubters and critics who say China has so many medals in swimming is because of doping, I say it is thanks to hard work,” he said at his final news conference. “Ye also worked very hard. Chinese are not weaker than Americans or other countries.”

Phelps, the fish that walks like a man, was almost stronger than everyone he raced against. In his final appearance, he put the U.S. medley relay team in front, capping an Olympic career that included 22 medals, 18 of which were gold, in 51 races.

“I’ve been able to do everything I wanted,” he said. “I’ve been able to achieve the goals I wanted to achieve and I’ve managed to do every single thing. It’s time for other things.”

It’s time, too, for someone to fill the Phelps void.

Anointed before the Games as the swimmer to watch, Franklin made good on all the hype by swimming in seven events, winning five medals, four of which were gold.

The 17-year-old dual citizen of Canada and the United States showed her extreme power and figures to be even better with another four years of racing experience.

“I don’t think [Phelps’] shoes will ever be filled. They’re huge,” said Franklin, who wasn’t talking about Phelps’ size 14 feet. (Hers are 13.) “Hopefully I can make little paths next to him.”

The United States finished with 16 gold medals in the pool; the Chinese were second with five, while France finished with four.

Canada’s last gold medal in swimming came in 1992 when Mark Tewksbury won the 100 backstroke.