VANCOUVER, Canada, May 24. YEARS of perseverance and dedication will be recognized this weekend when retirement ceremonies are held for Olympic bronze medallist Brent Hayden and former world record holder Annamay Pierse at the Mel Zajac Jr. International Canada Cup.
For Hayden and Pierse it will be another chance to be cheered at the same University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre where they spent years training as members of the UBC Dolphins.
“I think it's pretty cool they are honouring their athletes,” said Pierse, 29, who in 2009 set both the long and short-course world record in the 200-metre breaststroke. “It's nice they are showing us appreciation and doing something in that regard.”
Hayden, a former 100-metre freestyle world champion who retired after
winning a bronze medal at the London Olympic Games, was also named to the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame earlier this year. He likes the idea of having former coaches and teammates involved in this weekend's ceremony.
“It's a huge honour,” said the 29-year-old who was born in Mission, B.C. “It's nice to be recognized for my career.”
Pierse's ceremony will be held during Friday night's competition. Hayden will be honoured Saturday night.
Tom Johnson, head coach of the National Swimming Centre – Vancouver, said both athletes served as role models for young swimmers in Canada.
“They defined our program to a large degree in the years they were at the top of their game,” said Johnson. “When you're setting world records, winning medals at the world championships and winning the world championship the way Brent did . . . it basically puts your program on the map and keeps it there.”
This year's Mel Zajac Jr. International Canada Cup will attract around 440 athletes including five-time Olympic gold medallist Ryan Lochte of the U.S. and his teammate Elizabeth Beisel, who won a bronze and silver at the London Games. Among the Canadian swimmers will be 2012 Olympians Savannah King, Joel Greenshields, Tera van Beilen, Scott Dickens and Tommy Gossland.
Both Pierse and Hayden competed at the meet during their careers.
King, a two-time Olympian who will attend both the World Championships and World Student Games this summer, said it's important to acknowledge athletes that had an impact on Canadian swimming.
“Annamay and Brent were so fantastic when they were swimming,” said King. “It's nice to recognize how much they put into the sport and how amazing they really were when they were in the sport.”
Pierse was born in Toronto, grew up in Edmonton and attended UBC. She credits coach Jozef Nagy for having the most impact on her career.
“I went from being this athlete, this swimmer that nobody thought was ever going to do anything,” she said. “Joe just had so much belief in me.”
There are many highlights in her career but the one that still shines brightest is setting the short-course world record in Toronto in March 2009.
“Everybody was there to see me swim,” said Pierse, who now lives in Toronto. “Touching the wall and looking up and seeing a new world record, it still kind of takes my breath away when I think about it.
“In that moment everything was worth it. All of those bad days. All of those great days. The whole journey in my swimming career was worth it in that moment.”
Pierse still holds the Canadian 100 and 200-metre breaststroke record. She reached the 200 breaststroke final at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, then set the long-course world record in the semifinals of the 2009 World Championships in Rome. Pierse would finish second in the final.
While attending the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delphi, Pierse contracted a severe case of Dengue fever. She was unable to train properly for months, then missed qualifying for the London Olympics at the 2012 Canadian Olympic Trails in Montreal.
That bitter defeat was a test of Pierse's courage.
“That was just devastating and heartbreaking, everything all rolled into one,” she said. “I made it out the other side of that.
“I think that's the biggest thing swimming has given me. I know life at times, it's not easy, but there's not going to be anything that's going to fully throw me down and I won't be able to get back up.”
Hayden, the Canadian record holder in the 200, 100 and 50-metre freestyle, said tying for first place at the 2007 World Championships and his Olympic medal are understandably the high points of his career. He said the frustration he felt at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and again at the 2008 Games in Beijing were important character builders.
“I think I actually needed those to happen,” he said. “I learned more about myself as a person and as an athlete coming back from those tough times and becoming successful afterward, rather than learning about myself when things were gong well.”
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