Brent Hayden On The Comeback Trail At 36 With Dash & Relays In Mind For Tokyo 2020

Brent Hayden, right, and Filippo Magnini - shared world-title gold in 2007 Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

Brent Hayden On The Comeback Trail At 36

Brent Hayden, the 2007 World 100m freestyle champion and Olympic bronze medallist from London 2012 who in 2010 claimed the Commonwealth crown for Canada, is making a comeback after seven years out of the sport.

“I retired because I was putting an end to the worst year of my life,” Hayden told CBC Sports from his home in Vancouver today.

“I was spiralling towards depression. My back was in terrible shape and constantly in spasm. Those around me and closest to me had created a toxic environment. I got that medal in spite of everything. I felt it was time to try and end on a high note while I still could.”

Hayden turned 36 two days ago three years after watching then 35-year-old Anthony Ervin, of the United States, become the oldest Olympic champion in the pool in history with Rio 2016 victory over 50m freestyle 16 years after his first gold in that events at Sydney 2000 as a teenager.

Proof enough that Hayden is young enough. “I’m training as if I’m going for medal,” he tells CBC.

“I’ll focus on the 50m freestyle sprint because my top-end speed is already higher than it ever was. I’ve been working on a new entry dive. My stroke mechanism is good, and I’ve got at least 10 more pounds of muscle on me now than I had then. I know this is within the realm of possibility.”

Looking back at his own Olympic podium, Hayden told CBC:

“That medal came at a cost. I’m glad I got it for myself and for Canada. But I got it when I had fallen out of love with swimming.”

Hayden travelled to Lebanon after London 2012 and married Nadina, a singer/songwriter/musician. Back home, he did the rounds of celebrity TV shows, including “Canada’s Smartest Person”. No gold but he is said to have done himself proud, as he always did in the water.

He and his wife launched the “Astra Athletica” kit make, while Hayden runs swim camps for youth at home and abroad and is into contemporary photography.

Why the Comeback?

Hayden was subjected to his first drug test in seven years two weeks ago. He’s been training for several weeks – and there’s much to do just to make the Canada cut, let alone make an impression at Tokyo 2020 ahead of a possible tilt at a place on an Internationbal Swimming League team.

He’s training at University of British Columbia’s high-performance centre with his former coach Tom Johnson. The mixed medley relay was not around when Hayden quit the sport; its one of the things he’s looking forward to.

He admits to doubt, telling CBC: “I naturally asked myself: ‘What if it doesn’t work out? What will it do to my reputation if I fail? But so far reaction has been that it looks like I never retired. It’s been very positive.”

Memory of Melbourne 2007

History recalls a first at the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne: shared gold in the men’s 100m freestyle, Italy’s Filippo Magnini retaining the crown in a match with Canadian Brent Hayden.

The pair touched the wall in the identical time of 48.43 seconds to share the honor of being the fastest men in water and producing the first dead-heat in any event at a world swimming championship.

Magnini, 25, joined American Matt Biondi and Russian Alexander Popov as the only men to win the 100 freestyle event at successive world championships, while Hayden provided Canada with their first world swimming champion in 21 years after a lung-bursting finish to the final.

Australia’s Eamon Sullivan grabbed the bronze medal in 48.47, just 0.38 separating the eight finalists at the wall. Said Hayden:

“In the last 15, I was seeing God. There is always a point where you feel like you have hit the wall and that is what I felt when I was 20 out. But I told myself you have come too far not to do this. So I didn’t take a breath and put my head down and went as fast as I could.”

Pieter van den Hoogenband, of the Netherlands, finished sixth to continue his run of near-misses at world championships. Although he is the fastest swimmer in history and has won the past two Olympic titles, the 29-year-old has never won a gold medal at the world championships.




  1. Dave Hoover

    I wish him luck but the 50 free will almost certainly the most talent and experience loaded event in the whole meet.