LONDON -- The most veteran member on Canada's swim team conquered rookie nerves to capture his first Olympic medal.
Brent Hayden won bronze in the 100-metre freestyle Wednesday for Canada's first swim medal of the 2012 Summer Games.
After touching the wall in 47.80 seconds, Hayden turned, rose out of the water almost to his waist to see the scoreboard and then slapped his right hand into the water with joy.
"There are so many times when you can dream of something, but a million out of a million and one times it won't come true," Hayden said. "This was one of the things that I was very fortunate as a human being to have happen to me."
American Nathan Adrian out-touched James Magnussen for gold in 47.52, followed by the Australian in 47.53.
Hayden grappled with emotion and a complaining back in the hours prior to his race. The three-time Olympian required three spinal adjustments from his medical team to address his discomfort.
The Mission, B.C., swimmer is a world champion and world silver medallist in the distance, but was about to swim in his first Olympic final in three tries.
"I just couldn't help feeling like 'The best day of my life feels like the worst day of my life right now,' " he explained. "I woke at 6 a.m. and my heart pounding because I was thinking about the race.
"It took me awhile to turn that off and fall back asleep. All throughout the day I kept having these moments where I'd kind of start to think about the race and my heart would start thumping and I thought 'I've got to stay calm, I've got to stay calm.' "
At 28, Hayden was more than three years older than Cesar Cielo, the next eldest in the final.
The two veterans went out quickly with Hayden second to the Brazilian at the 50-metre split. But Adrian and Magussen went eyeball to eyeball in the fourth and fifth lanes and closed hard. Hayden kept contact in the seventh lane.
"I kind of had the urge to kiss the starting block because I just never knew I could love Lane 7 so much," he said. "Tonight was (about) digging down deep into my soul.
"It was all about finding my inner strength and feeding off my fiancée's vibes from the stands."
A week after the closing ceremonies in London, Hayden will marry Nadina Zarifeh in Lebanon. He met the Lebanese-Canadian at the University of British Columbia, where Hayden trains.
Hayden is the first Canadian man to win an Olympic medal in the 100-metre freestyle. The man who last swam in a final, International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound, hung the bronze around Hayden's neck. Pound was sixth in the 1960 Olympics.
Hayden's medal boosted Canada's swimmers. While talking to reporters later, he was high-fived by teammate Martha McCabe, who qualified for Thursday's 200-metre breaststroke final.
Hayden's not done racing in London either. He has the 50-metre heats Thursday morning and the men's 4x100 relay on Friday.
-- The Canadian Press