White Rock swimmer Hilary Caldwell joined her Canadian teammates Sunday at the closing ceremony of the Rio Games to celebrate an Olympics that netted her a bronze medal.
Not that she’s used to wearing it.
“They’re actually really heavy, like shockingly heavy. I don’t think I need to walk around with it all the time, you could take somebody out with those,” Caldwell told Peace Arch News by telephone Friday from the Olympic Village in Rio.
Caldwell, a 25-year-old Earl Marriott Secondary grad, finished third in the women’s 200m backstroke in Rio on Aug. 12 with a time of two minutes and 7.54 seconds – slightly off the pace she expected. She said she’s “over the moon” about winning a medal, but wanted the gold.
“Putting an exact perfect performance together in an Olympic final is a lot to ask for. It’s not necessarily ideal circumstances. There’s a lot of nerves and a lot of pressure,” she said. “I just wish the time had been a little bit better.”
Caldwell finished behind winner Maya DiRado of the United States and silver medallist Katinka Hosszu of Hungary.
Compared to her first Olympic Games – 2012 in London, where she finished 18th – Caldwell arrived in Rio a much different athlete. She had experience and maturity on her side.
Her Rio race didn’t come until the sixth day, so she had five days of watching her Canadian teammates “just killing it” on the water, a group led by four-time medallist 16-year-old Penny Oleksiak.
“You look at the Olympic podium as this huge unattainable thing for your whole sporting career. To see the girls night after night after night hitting podium finishes, it made it seem like an achievable goal for me. It was pretty cool to be a part of this team.”
After Caldwell’s podium finish, she searched the crowd for her parents, Chalmers Caldwell and Gillian Douglas, who came down to the front row to hug their daughter.
“It was pretty cool they got to see that,” said Caldwell.
Caldwell said the Rio Olympic experience outside the pool was great, she said.
Despite reports leading up to the Games that cast doubt on the readiness of Rio to host the world, Caldwell said she didn’t see evidence of that. The Olympic Village had beautiful rooms and amenities, she said, and other venues she visited – the Olympic stadium, the beach volleyball court on Copacabana Beach – were equally impressive.
“We were all pleasantly surprised when we got here how nice everything turned out to be.”
Born in London, Ont., Caldwell moved to White Rock with her family at age six, spending her early school years at Peace Arch Elementary.
She started swimming at South Surrey Indoor Pool, logging countless hours there.
“I spent a lot of hours slugging it out in that little pool. Just growing up right by the ocean you get this love of the water that everybody has, and I turned that into swimming. It’s such a nice place to live.”
Caldwell said she owes much of her success to her family and a collection of great coaches throughout her career, including her former Pacific Sea Wolves coach Brad Dingey, and Randy Bennett, who died of cancer last year.
Her current coach Ryan Mallette took over “a pretty hard situation” in Victoria, where Caldwell trains and is completing a French degree at University of Victoria.
“We had a pretty hard year getting past that,” said Caldwell. “I’m pretty proud to say I could win a bronze medal at the Olympics for (Mallette) as well.”
As for what the future holds, Caldwell said she’s staying in the pool and isn’t ruling anything out.
“People are (asking): Tokyo 2020 or not? I’m not sure. That’s a long ways away right now.”
That said, she’s already setting her sights on the World Short Course Swimming Championships in Windsor, Ont. in December – and wants to be on the top of the podium, of course.
“I have no plans to stop now. I feel like I have more in me.”