Brent Hayden: Timing Not Perfect But I’m On Olympic Comeback Trail For A Medal

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2012 Olympic bronze medalist Brent Hayden has found his passion for swimming again. Photo Courtesy: Swimming Canada

Brent Hayden comeback ambitions: Olympic medal – and the ISL

When Brent Hayden was welcomed back to the sport of swimming by media members on Wednesday, he smiled and said: “I did not think that would ever happen.”

Hayden, who just turned 36 on Monday, had been retired for seven years. He seemed to have achieved everything he set out to do in his career; he was a World champion in 2007 and he won an individual bronze medal in 2012, both medals coming in the 100 free. But Hayden had retired after the 2012 Olympics because he was spiraling into depression caused by swimming.

Hayden had suffered from chronic back spasms in the lead-up to the 2012 Olympic Games. There were some days he would get in to warm up which would cause a spasm to occur and he was forced to leave the pool and go home. He would try recovery techniques but the pain became unmanageable. Two weeks before the Olympics in London, he suffered a spasm that caused him to not be able to walk for four days. Miraculously, he still went on to win the bronze medal in the 100 free behind Nathan Adrian and James Magnussen.

Hayden went out on a high note. He had no intentions of coming back. After having so many back problems at the tail end of his career, the thought of even diving into a pool made him sick. And yet … he’s back.

Back with long-time coach and mentor Tom Johnson in Vancouver. Hayden told Swimming World:

“We have the best coach-athlete relationship. I’ve never wanted another coach.”

When he announced his comeback to the sport, the question was obvious: why?

It wasn’t watching the Olympic Games in Rio. He watched those and was fine with being retired. The thought of coming back to swimming came to Hayden while was doing swim clinics in Lebanon this August. Doing clinics was the only reason why he would get in the water, but after swimming on his own for a month, the things he loved about the sport came back. And he started feeling more powerful in the water than ever before.

Hayden had been staying fit the last seven years by training in the gym, so he was in fairly good shape already. After he had been swimming on his own for a little while, he sent some videos of himself in the water to long-time friend Brett Hawke, who told him, ‘you look like you’re in race shape!’

“And Brett Hawke is one of the best sprint coaches in the world so I listened to what he said.”

Brent Hayden: Back Like He Never Left

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Brent Hayden with his 100 free bronze medal in 2012; Photo Courtesy: Swimming Canada

Hayden says he had “moved further away from the pool” since retiring, both metaphorically and literally. He has to drive at least an hour back and forth to practice each day at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where he is training alongside Canadian national team members Richard Funk and Carson Olafson, among others.

Because of this, and because of his age, he only trains once a day and spends a lot more time focusing on recovery.

Hayden hasn’t swam in a competition since retiring after the Olympics, but he believes “success is possible” for him.

“The conditions are definitely not perfect for me to come back, being so close to the Olympics. But I’m training for a medal. I have been doing times in training that are faster than what I was usually going.”

By this time next year, that may convert to speed in the International Swimming League. Says Hayden: “I would love to do ISL in the future.”

Hayden has been training more specifically for the 50, but hasn’t ruled out the 100 for next year, saying he would love the opportunity to be on Canada’s relays, including the mixed medley relay at the Olympics, which will be making its first appearance at an Olympic Games next summer. Canada finished 13th in Worlds this year in the men’s 4×100 free relay, just one spot away from clinching an Olympic berth.

The mixed medley is a different story. With World Champions Kylie Masse and Maggie MacNeil on the backstroke and butterfly legs, the Canadians are in contention to medal. Add in a rejuvenated Hayden, and they will be in the mix to win a medal in that relay.

How Long Will This Last?

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Brent Hayden at the 2012 Olympics; Photo Courtesy: Swimming Canada

Hayden has made it clear he is hoping to win an individual medal in the future with his comeback. But he doesn’t see 2020 as an endpoint.

“I’m just going to see how the year goes and focus on one day at a time. If everything goes well, there is no reason to stop.”

There have been a number of sprinters that announced comebacks after spending some time away, most notably Dara Torres, who was 41 in 2008 when she won the silver medal in the 50 free in Beijing. Anthony Ervin is another name that comes to mind, who won gold in Rio in 2016 at age 35, becoming the oldest Olympic gold medalist in swimming. Frenchmen Florent Manaudou and Amaury Leveaux announced their comeback intentions within the last 12 months as well.

Hayden could be dangerous next year because his back, which caused him so much distress in the latter half of his career, is finally cooperating. He says:

“My back feels amazing. Before, I couldn’t do lower body exercises. If you look at pictures of me during that time, my legs were so skinny compared to the rest of my body. It was because I couldn’t deadlift, I couldn’t squat. But now I’ve been training my legs and I haven’t had any back problems.”

And if he can win an Olympic bronze medal just a couple weeks after suffering a bad back spasm which left him immobile for four days, then who knows what he can accomplish fully healthy.