One week from now, athletes from around the world will march in the opening ceremonies for the 2012 London Olympic Games. Tens of thousands will be in attendance while roughly a billion more will watch the festivities on television sets around the globe.
One of those who will be glued to the tube is Cloverdale realtor Brittany Reimer, who will be experiencing a major case of déjà vu as the fortnight in London unfolds.
Eight years ago, at the tender age of 16, Reimer was one those athletes competing for Canada at the 2004 Games in the birthplace of the Olympic movement, Athens, Greece. Reimer acknowledges the latest edition of the Games will bring back a flood of memories
She was the youngest member of the Canadian swim team in Athens by three years, a young phenom competing against the best swimmers in the world. She swam in the 200-metre, 400m, and 800m freestyle events as well as the 4x100m medley relay. She did not reach the finals in any of her events and remembers being disappointed with her results.
"The Olympics only happen every four years and you have to try to be at your best in that year and at that time," she recalls.
"It's so hard to time that peak and for those who can do it, that's amazing. If I had the year I had in 2005 a year earlier, the times I had at the (2005) world championships would have medaled in Athens. It's a timing thing and you never know when that timing is right until the day of the race."
As the biggest sporting spectacle on the planet, the Olympics are much more than just a sporting event. In addition to the racing, Reimer's memories include things that escaped the attention of most broadcast crews, such as:
- Athletes from Third World nations lined up for McDonalds - a restaurant unavailable to them in their homelands - in the massive Olympic Village complex.
- A sandstorm that swept through Athens one night just before she was about to race, causing the overhead cameras to sway in the breeze.
- Eating in the cafeteria next to such stars as Michael Phelps, Ian Thorpe, Andy Roddick and Yao Ming.
- Dressed in her track suit and swim cap and waiting in the stuffy, overheated ready room - a tunnel beneath the stands - with sweat pouring off of her.
- A little stray dog that was adopted by the Canadian swimmers during a two-week pre-Olympic training camp on the Greek island of Kos prior to the games.
The year after Athens, Reimer had a breakout summer highlighted by a memorable showing at the 2005 World Aquatics Championships Montreal. In front of Canadian fans, Reimer won a silver medal in the 800m freestyle and a bronze in the 1,500m freestyle events. She also placed placed fourth in the women's 400m freestyle final and broke three Canadian records.
The following year at the 2006 Commonwealth games in Australia, Reimer won a bronze medal in the women's 800m freestyle.
And that was it. With the 2008 Olympic Games in China looming, Reimer decided the fire was no longer burning strong enough inside her to continue to train and compete at an elite level.
"I retired right before 2008 and I was ready to retire and move on to the next chapter in my life," she says. "Everyone told me I could have kept going but it's a big commitment. I loved the life of an athlete but I started my athletic life so young, at age six.
- "I made my first national team when I was 15 and most people don't do that until they're in their 20s. I started young and I was fortunate enough to win medals at the world championships and the Commonwealth Games and I swam in the Olympics. I had experienced everything I thought I needed to experience in that world and I was just ready to move on with my life."
While she no longer hits the pool every day, she is still involved in the sport. As an Olympian, she understands the exclusive club she belongs to and what it means to youngsters. She volunteers with her former clubs, the Cloverdale Tritons and Surrey Knights, as well as Holyburn in West Vancouver. When she meets with kids, she brings her medals as a source of inspiration for the next generation of Canadian swimmers, recalling her first brush with Olympic stardom when she met Canadian Olympian Jessica Deglau at a swim meet at UBC at the age of 12. She later learned Deglau had a similar experience with another Canadian swim star when she was a young girl.
"It's funny how the cycle goes," Reimer says. "For me, I meet so many young kids in swim clubs and at least one of those kids has to keep that cycle going. It has to happen and I never know which kid will be the one who goes on to be an Olympian. When I talk to kids, I always tell them that they can do it. I'm just like every other kid and I did it so you can do it."