Eleven years ago, Brent Hayden had visions of a fantastic swimming career ahead of him. The native of Mission, B.C. was already a two-time national champ at the junior level, and as he was about to graduate from high school, he stood at a crossroads.
Hayden had to make a crucial decision about his budding swimming career. He could stay local to focus solely on swimming, working day in and day out with no distractions. He could head off to the U.S. to swim and study at a school with a great swimming program, which would force him to stray from his home country. He could also decide that competitive swimming just wasn’t the career path he wanted, and forgo the early-morning practices for something less demanding.
But in the end, Hayden decided to stick with swimming and combine the best of both worlds. By enrolling at UBC in 2001, he was able to stay at home, study at university and join arguably the best swimming program in Canada. Now, he has an Olympic bronze medal to proudly call his own.
- Born: October 21, 1983 in Misson, British Columbia
- First Canadian to win a medal in the 100m freestyle and first to appear in the final since Dick Pound in 1960
- Competed in three Olymipcs to date
- Co-world champion of the 100m freestyle at the 2007 World Aquatic Championships
- Current Canadian record holder in the 50m, 100m and 200m freestyle in both the short course and long course
- Held the world record in the 4×100 m medley relay and 4×200 m freestyle relay
- Engaged to be married on August 19 in Lebanon
- Known for having several tattoos, including the Superman logo on his chest and the Olympic rings on his back
- Nicknamed “Soup” thanks to the Superman tattoo
- Enjoys photography in his spare time
Hayden finished third in the men’s 100-metre freestyle on August 1, winning the elusive Olympic medal that had evaded him during the past two Summer Games. He finished with a time of 47.80 seconds, 0.04 seconds ahead fourth and just 0.28 back of the winner’s pace.
In what turned out to be his last 100-metre race at the Olympics, he wasn’t going to let another opportunity slip through his fingers.
“I couldn’t afford to hold anything back,” said Hayden to CTV News after the race. “With 25 metres left, it hurt, but I was saying to myself, ‘This could be the last 100-metre freestyle race of my career,’ so all I was doing was going for it.”
Back in 2003, Hayden, now 28, made his first decision to “go for it.” After spending two years studying at UBC and swimming for the Thunderbirds, he decided to put his schooling on hold and focus only on swimming.
Granted, Hayden admitted that academics were not a priority when he came to UBC in 2001.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do [in school],” said Hayden back in March. “I was doing all sorts of -ologies; everything had an -ology at the end of it.”
But he did know that he wanted to swim, and at that time, there was no better place than UBC. The Thunderbirds were building up their swimming program to become one of the best in the country, which resulted in them winning ten straight CIS men’s championships from 1998 to 2007. More importantly, Hayden was able to stay in Vancouver to swim with the Vancouver Dolphins club team at UBC under national coach Tom Johnson.
“[UBC] got me introduced with the swim program here, and if UBC wasn’t available to help me, I for sure would’ve gone down to somewhere in the States,” said Hayden. “And with this being such a great program and getting that introduction into it, I think it was the right call, because even with putting my schooling on hold, I was still able to stay here.”
His coaches also know the important role that UBC played in his training.
“The big thing about a guy like Brent is that he wants to be surrounded by like-minded athletes,” said UBC swimming coach Steve Price, who first coached Hayden back in 2001. “And kids who come to our program are all trying to excel at the level they’re at, and they have that idea of excellence that is an environment where [Hayden] can step forward.
“But what sets him apart is his ability to win as a racer. He has an uncanny knack for finding a way to get his hand on the wall during competition; he seems to find a way to do that.”
Hayden’s coach of 11 years, Tom Johnson, also acknowledged that the CIS helped not only Hayden, but all of the swimmers who go through the program.
“I think the CIS is a huge building block for swimmers to move from being identified as being gifted enough to try and pursue [the Olympics], and it gives them four or five years of really good competitive opportunity and experience,” said Johnson. “You have the ability to train and not necessarily subjugate your ambitions in the international arena to a summer job when you have the national training centre and scholarships at UBC.”
Hayden may have been surrounded by equally talented athletes if he had gone south to train
and study, but the team atmosphere just would not have been the same. Here, he was able to swim alongside his fellow Canadians: teammates who would push him to improve and grab the final Olympic qualifying spot, friends who he would swim relays and set world records with.
“That’s what’s really important about our program; we feed off each other at every level,” said Price. “Our varsity guys get just as much of a thrill of having Brent in the pool as he has having them around him.”
That thrill was at an all-time high on August 1, only this time, Hayden thrilled an entire nation; he delivered Canada its first-ever medal in the 100-metre freestyle.
In career full of ups and downs, Hayden finally hit his high point. He has now called it a career, retiring after his final race in London and walking away with a bronze medal hanging proudly around his neck.
“It’s just amazing right now,” said Hayden to CTV News. “You always have that little bit of doubt in the back of your mind, but then something comes forward and you realize you have an equal shot just like everyone else, so you just go for it.”
There was arguably doubt in Hayden’s mind when he chose to invest his swimming future in UBC, and even more when he decided to focus solely on swimming. But as proven by his performance in London, going for it can pay off.
He is now a Canadian swimming icon, a bronze medal winner on the world’s biggest stage and a former world record holder. But before all of that, Brent Hayden was a UBC Thunderbird.