Her swim across Lake Ontario at the age of 16 ignited the imagination of the country.
Canada has the world’s longest saltwater coastline: 202,080 kilometres along which Olympic hopefuls can immerse themselves in their respective sports. Though Canada is better known for water of the frozen sort, these athletes, despite their low profile (or perhaps because of it), affirm that Canadians can make equal use of liquid H2O to excel in the Olympics.
When Marilyn Bell, a sixteen-year-old grade 12 student at Toronto's Loretto College School, launched her 1.6 metre, 54-kilogram body into the cold waters of Lake Ontario, she was unaware of the mountains of both water and publicity she would endure. She faced fifty kilometres of unlit open water, powerful winds and 3.7 metre high waves. Some argue that the twenty hours and fifty-nine minutes she swam battling Lake Ontario shattered the myth of the fragile female.
Elaine Tanner was one of our greatest athletes in the pool. Known as Canada's "Mighty Mouse," Tanner stretched less than 1.5 metres and weighed less than 45 kilograms. At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Tanner won silver in the 100m backstroke and the 200m backstroke followed by a bronze in the 4 x 100m freestyle relay, making it the greatest Olympic performance ever by a Canadian woman.
When Alex Baumann dove into the pool for the 400m Individual Medley at the 1984 Olympics, he swam in world and Olympic record time to a gold medal. Five days later, gold again glistened for Baumann in the California sun, this time in the 200m IM when he set another Olympic and world record.
Carolyn Waldo was the most celebrated synchronized swimmer of her era. At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Waldo brought home two gold medals – one for her individual performance, and one with her partner Michelle Cameron. Following Waldo and Cameron’s routine, when the marks were posted, it became clear they had sustained a victory streak that would ultimately see them win every major international duet competition they entered over their four-year career together.
They are Footprints in Canada’s swimming heritage.