Winning came with a bit of sadness at the Olympic swim trials Thursday.
Scott Dickens of Burlington, Ont., qualified for the 2012 Summer Games in a second event by winning the 200-metre breaststroke, but he was stunned it came at the expense of Mike Brown, one of Canada's best in the discipline.
Brown, a former world silver medalist who finished fourth at the 2008 Olympics, came out retirement in an attempt to qualify for London. But Dickens won Thursday in 2 minutes 12.69 seconds. Brown was a distant fourth in 2:14.95, which was well-off his Canadian record of 2:08.84. His Olympic comeback story ended.
“It's difficult to see one of our best swimmers in Canada, and one of the best we've ever had, not make the team,” said Dickens, who also qualified in the 100 breaststroke. “I really feel for him because he's one of my best friends in the sport and I know how he feels.”
Brown was devastated. He'd swum with Dickens for 150 metres at the Olympic Park Pool and then faded.
In his initial meeting with reporters, the 27-year-old from Perth, Ont., broke down and needed time to collect himself. A few minutes later, Brown described his bafflement over his performance.
“In Being, I missed my medal by .09 [seconds]” Brown said. “This is a lot harder than Beijing.
“Tonight, I've never been more confused in my career. I went faster in Toronto at a Canada Cup in November when I was in-season [training] not rested and not shaved down,” he said. “How I went faster then and slower now is something I've never done in my career, ever.”
Victoria's Ryan Cochrane, an Olympic bronze medalist in the 1,500 in Beijing, qualified in the 400 metres.
Calgary's Jillian Tyler and Tera Van Beilen of Oakville, Ont., were first and second respectively in the women's 100-metre breaststroke to earn Olympics berths.
Montreal's Barb Jardin and Samantha Cheverton of Pointe-Claire, Que., did the same in the 200-metre freestyle final.
Toronto's Brittany MacLean, already qualified in the 400-metre freestyle, and Amanda Reason of Windsor, Ont., were quick enough to make the freestyle relay team.
The trials is an emotionally-charged atmosphere, in which long-time club teammates and friends must beat each other to achieve their Olympic dream.
A maximum of two qualify from each event and both have to race under an Olympic standard. More often than not, only one swimmer punches their ticket to London.
“Honestly, the trials is harder than the Olympics,” Dickens said. “This is the hard part. London is the fun part. It's all about racing. There's no do-or-die situation in that if you don't make the cut, you're not going.”
“Here, there's so much on the line, a one-two placing and under the Olympic standard. That's really tough. I've experienced both sides of it before, making it and not making it.”
Even those who might seem immune to the drama felt stressed. Cochrane trounced the men's 400 field by over five seconds, but feels for teammates who don't make the cut.
“Four years ago, I didn't know what to expect so it was agonizing then, so I said, ‘You have to be ready for the mental side of it this time,” Cochrane said. “You really can't. I don't know if I want to watch the rest of the meet. I'd rather hear the results and deal with it after because it is so stressful.”
Jardin, whose aunt Anne Jardin earned a pair of bronze medals in the same pool at the 1976 Olympics, posted a time of 1:57.34 to take the women's 200 freestyle ahead of Cheverton in 1:57.98. MacLean was third in 1:58.09 and Reason right behind in 1:58.72.
The women's combined four times were faster than the host British women in their recent trials, which bodes well for the relay team, according to national team coach Pierre Lafontaine.
“These girls are getting in the hunt,” Lafontaine said.
Tyler, seventh in last year's world championship, held off Van Beilen in a time of 1:07.19 in a quick 100-metre breaststroke final. Van Beilen finished second in 1:07.37 and then shed tears of joy.