White Rock's Hilary Caldwell makes a splash during the women's 200-m backstroke final Friday in Rio

Caldwell captures Olympic bronze

White Rock swimmer's journey from local pool to Olympic stage 'like a fairy tale' says her former coach.

In August 2012, White Rock swimmer Hilary Caldwell went to the Summer Olympics in London but did not advance past the first round of the 200-m women’s backstroke.

Four years later, she stood on the podium at the very same event in Rio de Janeiro.

On Friday evening, Caldwell, 25, swam to a bronze medal in the 200-m race, adding her name to the list of Olympic medal-winners to come from the Semiahmoo Peninsula – a list that includes Richard Weinberger, Christine Girard, Lynn Kanuka, Janice Birch and Canadian women’s soccer coach John Herdman.

Caldwell’s third-place time – two minutes and 7.54 seconds – was slightly off the pace she expected, she said after the race, though it’s tough to argue with the results.

“The times, definitely, I thought would be faster for the top three… and I wanted to be faster personally, but in the end it’s all about the race and that’s where we were all at tonight,” she said. “I can’t be too upset, I’m on the podium, right?”

American swimmer Maya Dirado won gold with a time of 2:05.99.

Caldwell’s bronze-medal win came on the heels of a slew of medal wins from Canada’s female swimmers, led by 16-year-old Penny Oleksiak.

The wait was worth it.

“I’ve seen six days of girls swimming absolutely lights out fast,” Caldwell said in a news release issued late Friday night.

“I was there (Thursday) when Penny was on top of the podium. I’m glad to be a part of that for sure. The 200 back is usually near the end of most competitions so I’m use to it.”

In one of the most stirring moments post-race Friday, Caldwell found her parents, Chalmers Caldwell and Gillian Douglas, who had moved down to the front row of the bleachers so they could hug their daughter.

Others cheered her on from afar – including her former Pacific Sea Wolves coach Brad Dingey, who moved last summer from the Peninsula to Victoria, where he coaches junior swimmers at the Canadian Sport Institute.

“It was so exciting to see – just awesome,” Dingey told Peace Arch News Tuesday, having seen Caldwell on a near daily basis the past year, as both programs run out of the same facility.

“It’s pretty unique for both of us, to come full-circle like this,” said Dingey, who began at PSW in ’04. “So it was a really neat experience to watch her progress. I’m incredibly proud of her.”

After Caldwell’s early elimination from the 2012 Olympics, Dingey thought the 2013 world championships – where she won bronze – was a “breakthrough for her.”

“One thing Hil has always had is a relentless pursuit of improvement, and that was a confidence boost,” he said. “And now, her progression… is just another chapter in a phenomenal story – almost like a fairy tale.”

And though Caldwell’s final time was a few ticks slower than she’d expected, her coach was no less thrilled for her.

“She won an Olympic medal and I thought that was absolutely fantastic,” Ryan Mallette said.

Caldwell’s performance even garnered the attention of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“@teamcanada’s women are unstoppable! Congrats @HilCaldwell on winning bronze in swimming at #Rio2016,” he tweeted.

 

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