Canadian swimmers return from bubble competition in Hungary

Brent Hayden and his Toronto Titans teammates go for a walk on Margaret Island. Supplied

Brent Hayden is in the middle of his 14-day quarantine after returning from the International Swimming League season.

The league, in just its second year, was held in a bubble this season because of COVID-19. The competition was on Margaret Island, on the Danube River in the middle of Budapest, Hungary.

A panoramic view of the Danube River and Margaret Island in the background in Budapest, Hungary. Werner OTTOullstein bild via Getty Images

The ISL sees swimmers selected to teams, and there’s competition for points. It’s a new format for swimming that is hoped to bring more profile to the sport. Hayden was a member of the newly formed Toronto Titans team.

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The competition ran for a month, with athletes tested every five days. Most of their time was spent in the hotel, then to the pool, because they were only allowed out of the hotel for quick walks around the small island.

“We were allowed out, but only for 90 minutes,” Hayden said. “We had to sign out and sign back in.”

Brent Hayden and his swimming team on the bus to the pool in Budapest, Hungary. Supplied

Despite the testing and strict rules, no more than two teams were allowed in the meal room at a time.

“Everyone had their own table,” Hayden said. “It was like a large desk to sit at. And all the teams were relegated to their own time slots. Sometimes your meal timeslot might’ve been like 6 to 7:30 a.m. and the next day it might be like 9 to 10:30 a.m.”

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The lack of consistency and late time slots in the evening could be a challenge. But Hayden said it was worth it to race in a healthy and safe environment; especially as he had just returned to the sport last year after coming out of retirement.

“My first time being back in real high level competition,” Hayden said from his home in Vancouver. “I think the last time I had swam a 50-metre or 100-metre free [freestyle] short course was going back to the 2011 season. So it had been almost a decade since I had raced those events short course.”
Click to play video 'Olympic swimmer Brent Hayden makes a comeback' Olympic swimmer Brent Hayden makes a comeback
Olympic swimmer Brent Hayden makes a comeback – Oct 24, 2019

Hayden is hopeful to make a comeback and qualify for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo after seven years in retirement.

“I would say my best highlight performance was one of the relays that I anchored,” said Hayden. “I think it was Energy Standard they were leading the whole race, just about, and on the last length I caught Amanda and brought the Titans to first place.

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“I had a lot of the other current superstars coming up to me and congratulating me on it, and just telling me how inspiring it was for them to see me back and still being able to perform at a high level.”

Read more: Coronavirus pandemic poses planning challenges for Canada teams bound for Tokyo Olympics

Hayden will use his quarantine as a little mini off-season. He’ll be back to training shortly after to continue preparation for Olympic Trials in April.

Click to play video 'Brent Hayden’s Olympic Comeback' Brent Hayden’s Olympic Comeback
Brent Hayden’s Olympic Comeback – Oct 27, 2019