Canadian Record-Holder Brent Hayden Comes Out of Retirement, Targets Tokyo

Brent Hayden, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist in the 100 freestyle and Canadian record-holder in the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, and 200 freestyle, has announced his return to the sport competitively. He will be training with High Performance Centre-Vancouver.

Hayden has taken seven years off from the sport, but he’s back to training with his sights set on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. His last big race came in 2012 when he won his bronze medal in the 100 free at the London Olympics in 2012. During his career, Hayden earned 22 medals between various Olympics, World Championships, Pan Pacific Championships, and Commonwealth Games.

“I didn’t like the way I retired,” said Hayden in a press release from Swimming Canada. “I retired because I hated the sport because of how things were playing out in my life. I realized I have a chance to fall in love with the sport again.”

Hayden, nearly 36, hopes to make it to Tokyo in the 50 free and perhaps the 100 free, according to the release.

“I think the 50-m is the most realistic,” said Hayden. “Historically, if you look at sprinters, 50-m freestylers have a longer life span. You can keep developing your power and aerobics a lot longer than your endurance that the 100-m requires.”

There’s certainly evidence to support that sprinters can have success later in their careers (as well as between bouts of time off). American Anthony Ervin made the 2000 Olympic team at age 19, then took periods of time off only to return to make the 2012 Olympic team, and then finally win gold in the 50 free at the 2016 Olympics at age 35. American Dara Torres won three silver medals at the 2008 Olympics after taking years off earlier in her carer; she was 41 in Beijing. Swede Therese Alshammar made her sixth-straight Olympic team at age 38 in 2016.

Hayden spent three months in Lebanon with his wife, Nadina Zarifeh, and her family, this summer. There, he began swimming in an outdoor pool, where he says he felt good in the water.

“Things that I thought would have been gone were still there,” he said. “My technique felt amazing. Little quirks in my body that were always kind of annoying weren’t there anymore. I actually felt fresher.”

“When Brent contacted Swimming Canada about his return to competitive swimming we discussed his plans and ambitions, then we fully agreed and supported his return,” said John Atkinson, High Performance Director, Swimming Canada. “I am happy to say our High Performance Centre in Vancouver based at the University of British Columbia will be working with Brent to support his return. He is an accomplished athlete at the highest level, and we welcome him back to the sport.”

“I see nothing really standing in his way of being able to do it,” said HPC-Vancouver coach Tom Johnson. “You can never underestimate him, because when he puts his mind to something, he is singularly focused and able to do it. He’s also a lot more mature. There’s a sense purpose about what he’s doing.”

The 2020 Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Trials will be held next spring in Toronto, roughly five months away.

At his absolute best, Hayden is most lethal in the 100 free, with his best time of 47.27 good enough to have won bronze at the 2019 World Championships.

While the Candian national team has seen a spike in performance and achievement, much of the recent success has come from the women’s side with juggernauts on the world stage like Kylie MasseTaylor RuckPenny Oleksiak, and Maggie Macneil. Their men have some impressive age group talent right now alongside a few older standouts like sprinters Yuri Kisil and Markus Thormeyer.

“It’s exciting,” Hayden said. “Before, I never experience life without swimming. You just kind of fall into a routine. A lot of days it’s like walking into a job. It’s a chore.”

“This time I’ve made the choice to come back. Every day I come here it’s a blessing. Even when I’m in the middle of a really hard set, and I feel like I just want to vomit, I can’t help but smile and be so thankful I’m here right now.”

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Good luck to Brent.

But isn’t it weird that, in swimming, age is less of a factor for sprinters than for distance swimmers? The common wisdom for runners is that performance peaks for sprinters between ages 23-30 and for marathon runners a bit later, from 25-34. So what is it about swimming that makes sprinters last longer? Is it physiology, or is it just the common received wisdom?


I guess marathon is sooooo aerobic though. It’s ultra distance compared to a 15,000 where you need a fair bit of anaerobic ability still. What is longevity in open-water swimming like?


OW swimmers last long though. Thomas Lurz was 25k champ in 2013 at 33, and Spyridon Gianniotis was his 10k silver at 36. The 800 and 1500 are different beasts that make training a lot more strenuous on the body than the 50-100 or the 5k+

He Gets It Done Again

Exactly. I’d maybe add even the 400m events as well. You don’t see many 30 somethings in the 400 free or 400 IM.


Good question Catherine. There’s no reason why distance swimmers shouldn’t last until well into their 30s at least. Marathoners are often thought to not approach their peaks until well into their 30s.

The “secret”, if you will, is simply to avoid physical breakdown. I think a lot of top level athletes, swimmers included, train themselves right out of their careers.

The Screaming Viking!

Age has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with ability in this context. In my opinion his age is an advantage. With proper planning he can be better than he has ever been. Brent, we should chat… these kids in the comments have no clue.


Except you know that testosterone levels start to decline in men in their early 30s and we all know how testosterone affects performance. Any time I see a man do world beating times or a new PB in swimming (pool) or running (sprints) in their mid to late 30s I roll my eyes.

The Screaming Viking!

Testosterone is a strange point to make here as there are a lot of factors that can have an effect on testosterone levels. It is actually very misunderstood. One study found that around 25% of the elite athletes they tested had incredibly low testosterone, yet showed no symptoms or decreased performance that would have caused them to expect that result when tested.


Can you link the study please

David Guthrie

I think this notion falls into the “conventional wisdom” category, which is based on history, not physiology. There are many factors involved, but the main one is the time and energy required to train for distance and middle distance events. It’s grueling. And with no financial rewards or incentives, historically speaking, we simply don’t have much data on 30+ swimmers, especially in longer events. The most reliable predictor of what swimmers are capable of is to look at other sports. Most of the traditional assumptions (convential wisdom) applied to swimmers regarding age and performance have proven been wrong. Eventually, they will all be proven wrong. Swimming isn’t so unique physiologically, contrary to everything we’ve been told.


True dat … and if anyone knows about excelling well past 30, it’s you, Mr. Guthrie.


As a Canadian swim fan, this makes me VERY excited


Could really help propel Canadian men’s swimming with relays, along with emerging talents like Knox, Liendo, Gaziev, and the Pratt brothers. With Kisil and Thormeyer continuing to improve, could make for an interesting Olympic final (maybe 4th-5th). Condorelli might have made the wrong choice?


Condorelli used to tell him to come back on Instagram

Mrs. Swimming

If Hayden can get back to like 90% of the athlete he was in 2012, he, Kisil, Thormeyer, and Liendo could be a pretty mean 4×100 free. Pretty far cry from podium material, but definitely would put them in a great position to get into the final in Tokyo!

p.s. Alex Pratt and Cole Pratt are not related, common misconception. Just happened to come from the same age group program.


The coincidences of a small world!

Morozov's Second 50

I trained with the Pratt “brothers” in Cascade, they do have the same last name but they aren’t brothers

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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