Hilary Caldwell had one job at Rio 2016: get on the podium in the 200m backstroke.
On Friday night, it was job well done.
All week she’s been watching her Canadian teammates have a bit of a pool party as the women won medal after medal. But while many of them competed early or had multiple events, Caldwell had to wait until Day 6 to even touch the start blocks in her single specialty event.
“At worlds it’s day six as well, so I’m pretty used to it,” she said of her long wait to get into the Olympic water. “It was the last day of our Olympic trials so I had to wait that one out too. It’s hard but I’ve gotten used to it.”
“You have to get into the meet and make sure you know it’s your time to race coming up,” she continued. “I didn’t go to finals every night. I kinda tried to watch from back at the village and get excited but sort of remember that I can’t get too hyped up yet on day one or day two or day three.”
Given her opportunity, Caldwell once again showed that it can pay off to focus on one event. After winning world championship bronze in 2013, she added Olympic bronze medallist to her resume in Rio. She finished in 2:07.54, behind American Maya Dirado (2:05.99) and Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu (2:06.05).
“The times, definitely, I thought would be faster for the top three absolutely and I wanted to be faster personally, but in the end it’s about the race and that’s where we were all at tonight. I can’t be too upset, I’m on the podium, right,” Caldwell said of her subdued reaction at the wall. “I did want the gold medal and I think a 2:05 is in me but it wasn’t tonight and I think I saw the time and I gave a little scowl but like I said, a podium is what I wanted coming in and I’m pretty amazed and pleased with that.”
Swimming in the first final of the night, Caldwell appeared loose and relaxed when the in-venue screens showed her and her fellow finalists in the ready room.
“I don’t know what it is but we’re all pretty chatty in the ready room typically and I find that kind of settles my nerves,” she said of the comradery among the backstrokers. “I find if I’m thinking too much about the race I panic.”
With Caldwell’s bronze, Canada’s medal count in the swimming pool at Rio 2016 has gone up to six, its third highest total ever behind the 10 at Los Angeles 1984 and the eight at Montreal 1976. In sharp contrast to Athens 2004 when Canada had zero swimming medals while Australia won 15, the Canadians now find themselves trailing one of the world’s top swimming nations by just two, a statistic Caldwell called “outrageous”.
“I’ve seen six days of girls swimming absolutely lights out fast and I was there last night, we sang the anthem when Penny (Oleksiak) was on top of the podium which was so cool. So I’m glad I get to be a part of that.”