By Steve Milton/Hamilton Spectator
LONDON You do anything for 22 years — let alone something that demands such total physical and psychological commitment — and it comes to an end, the surprise would be if you DIDN’T cry.
So there was Scott Dickens, uninhibited and unashamed, reviewing the final day of his swimming career through halting sentences and with brimming eyes.
Dickens and his three friends on Canada’s 4 x 100 medley relay team were eighth of the eight entrants in last night’s final — also the last race of many veterans’ careers, including teammate Brent Hayden’s and the incomparable Michael Phelps’ — but the finish was not the story for the Ancaster native on the first day of his 29th year.
The point was the trip between the beginning and the end.
When the Canucks narrowly grabbed the final lane after Friday’s heats, which Dickens wasn’t sure at first that they would, it meant that he could end his career as he hoped he would: on his 28th birthday.
“Yesterday was one of the most emotional days of my life,” he said after Saturday night’s race. “I didn’t even know if we’d make it through and I treated it as if it would be my last race. I remember finishing the race in tears, just looking around knowing I might not swim again, competitively. I broke down in the TV interview and then once I knew we made the final, I couldn’t hold any of the emotion back and I just pretty much collapsed.
“It was one of the greatest moments of my life knowing I could swim the final race of my life on my birthday. I looked around and just soaked it in.”
The curtain came down a full week after he had opened the first day of Olympic competition by breaking his own 100 metre breaststroke record and advancing to the final. He was eliminated in the semi-finals, as he was in the 200 metres later in the week, but on the eighth and last day of the meet, he swam in his first Olympic final.
“When I saw the schedule that was one of my goals: ‘We have to make that relay final’ because I wouldn’t want to be in the stands watching it.
“Swimming in the last session of the last day of the Olympic swimming meet on my birthday is…is…is…it’s like a story, a fairy tale, for me.
“Four years ago I wasn’t at the Olympics and eight years ago I only got one swim. This year I got six, a Canadian record and all best times. I really couldn’t ask for a better way to finish. I can’t say ‘what if?’ I can only look back and just smile.
“I look back on everything and I’m just so happy about the journey.”
His very first race was a 100 metres individual medley at the Ancaster Aquatic Centre, but he can’t remember whether or not he won.
“I just remember loving the water,” he said, fighting without success to hold back the tears. “I’m going to swim recreationally for the rest of my life because I love it so much.
“What I’m going to take away is that I finished with the love of the sport that I started with. I think that’s really important because I had fun every day of my life doing it.
“And I can’t believe it’s over.”