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Royal Honour For Brittany Maclean

Dec 21, 2012  - Karin Helmstaedt

The Canadian Olympic Committee will tomorrow award Canada's breakthrough female swimmer of the year, Brittany Maclean, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in Toronto. 

Maclean will receive her honour from Canadian Minister of Sport, Bal Gosal. The ceremony will be held at the Royal Ontario Museum.

The Canadian team's motto at London 2012 was "give your everything" - and Brittany Maclean did just that.

Swimming in her first Olympics, the 18 year-old from Etobicoke broke her own Canadian record in the heats of the 400 freestyle - lopping more than a second off her Trials record time to post 4:05.06 - and make the Olympic final.

In the evening, with her parents and grandparents cheering from the stands, she clocked 4:06.24 to finish 7th - in a race won by Camille Muffat of France in 4:01.45. Allison Schmitt (USA) was second in 4:01.77, with defending champion Becky Adlington of Britain taking the bronze in 4:03.01.

"I knew I was in a really tough field and I would be in a battle,’’ said MacLean after the race.  "I wasn’t completely successful with staying with the pack as I wanted to, but I fought to the finish.  I’ll take seventh place at the Olympics."

She tweeted: I just wanted to say a big thank you for everyones support! I am so happy reading your kind words; incredibly inspiring! #GoCanadaGo

Maclean went on to anchor the women's 4x200 freestyle relay three days later in yet another final - turning in the fastest split of the field outside the medals in 1:56.46.

Together with her teammates Barbara Jardin, Samantha Cheverton, and Amanda Reason they finished in fourth place - not an agonising fourth however as their time of 7:50.65 was a textile best ever for Canada.

"I'm really happy with the way everything went - it was an amazing experience," said Maclean. "I got to swim a final at the Olympic Games which has been a dream of mine for a while, so that was huge. I got to experience the whole team - and got to watch some incredible races from other people, so all in all I'm really happy with the whole experience."

Apart from her own racing, Maclean indicated she'll be taking lots of the London Games with her for future reference.

"The story of Brent Hayden is pretty cool, how long it's been and how determined he's stayed, and I'm really honoured to have been a part of the whole journey," she said, adding, "I got to witness the greatest Olympian of all time and his very last race, so there's nothing else that can probably be better than that. I mean, I was there and I can always look back on this moment. I think these 2012 Games have been amazing. I think there were tons of upsets but also the big names still managed to perform and happy I could witness it all."

On the last night of competition Maclean was part of a human billboard as she and her teammates got down to the job of serious cheering on Ryan Cochrane in the men's 1500 - with "We love Ryan" printed out on their stomachs.

"I love this team and I love cheering," she enthused, "and I love how much we support each other."

She added: "We managed to stay the course, which is huge, I mean it's an eight day competition, and it doesn't seem that hard when you're watching it but when you're trying to stay the course - there are so many temptations - whether it's just walking in the village that could affect your performance, or something you want from the cafeteria ... there are so many things that could go wrong, but if you manage to stay in the game, which we helped each other to do, it was successful, and we're really proud - all the way from Day 1 to Day 8 - it was successful."

Conditions in the village for the team were also the kind to make lifelong memories. Maclean roomed with breaststroker Tera van Beilen of Oakville - who made it as far as the semi-finals of the 100 breaststroke. 

"I love Tera, we had a great time, and we do everything together," Maclean laughed at the end of competition. "Yesterday I didn't see her all day and I got home at night and was like, I missed you! We've had a great time and we're really motivating for each other. We support each other and I was almost more nervous for her than I was for me, I'd have to squeeze someone and I'd go crazy. We get really excited for each other - so it's amazing to get to experience that with her."

That these Games were a veritable family affair (sister Heather was also on the team and swam on the 4x100 freestyle relay on the team  - the Macleans were one one of two sibling pairs along with Colin and Sinead Russell) made the meet particularly special - although Maclean was careful not to diffuse her energy too much.

Said Maclean: "I know how proud and happy they are for me so it was great to see them up in the stands so excited, although I didn't get to see my parents until after I finished my last race 'cause I was focussing on the task at hand - and I wanted to make sure ... I mean I only get to race at the Olympics - at this point I'm only guaranteed once - and I hope to be at the next one. But at this moment I was just focussed on staying rested and making sure that I didn't do anything that would affect that."

She continued: "But I was so happy when I finally saw them and it's been great because they're my number one fans and without their support I wouldn't be where I am today so, I owe a lot to them - and they're having the best time, so i 'm really glad they could have some fun too."

After the swimming events Maclean put her cheering expertise to work for other members of the Canadian Olympic team, tweeting her Canadian pride as she went from the track stadium to Serpentine Lake.

She marked the moment by tweeting: "had such a great time last night! Now heading to cheer on zsofi for her 10k #GoCanadaGo"

The pace of Maclean's progress through the sport did not ease up after the Games: this fall Maclean headed to the University of Georgia to train with Jack Bauerle, alongside American freestyler Allison Schmitt, who won a total of five medals for in London, three of them gold.

"I'm super excited, said Maclean of the move to Georgia. "It's weird, I keep saying: oh, I'm going there next year, but I'm going there in a week and a half! So - it's a really big deal - I'm completely changing my style of school, swimming, lifestyle, everything is changing. But I love the coaching staff I'm going to and although I don't really know what to expect, I have a really good feeling about it, and I love the teammates. They specialise in exactly what I specialise in, so I'm hoping it can be really successful."

Maclean doesn't have a major yet and wants to give herself some time in General Studies to decide which academic path to take - and as to whether her Canadian coach Kevin Thorburn will see her next summer, she is leaving herself plenty of room to be realistic.

"To be honest, I don't really know," she mused. "At least first I think I'm going to be coming home for sure to train with Kevin, because I trust him more than anyone with my swimming career, so I think in that transition year it'll be good for me to come back home for a bit, so I'm not too homesick and see my family for a while. But after that if I really enjoy the training, I can't promise where I'll be - I might stay there, so we'll see."

She embarks on her new chapter as an Olympian and an Olympic finalist - and raring to go to write the next instalment.

"That podium" - is Maclean's big goal now. "I just want to to do it all over again!"

"It's been so inspiring! Getting to watch different athletes achieve their dreams was amazing and I'm glad I had a positive experience because I was happy with my swims. But there's always room for improvement, and I have a long way to go before I can get on that podium, but it's inspired me for sure and I'm more determined than ever to keep going."

That's good news for Canada once again.