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1998 Commonwealth Games

Dryden's Diary


Nikki Dryden

August 5th, 10 pm: I am not sure if I will make the team with that race, but I am relieved and excited at the same time. Never in my whole career have I been nervous about a race until heats today. I thought I was going to throw up until I saw that 1:04 this morning. Now a 1:03! It's been 6 years since I went that fast, and it feels really good to swim fast again.

August 7th, 3 pm: No matter what happens tonight I am going to have fun. If this is the last race of my career I don't want to be angry and disappointed after it. I want to smile one more time.

August 7th, 11 pm: Wow, a best time! That has been a long time coming, 4 years since I improved and 6 years since I swam that fast in backstroke. I really am in shock right now. After the 100 I knew I could do it, but I just didn't know where it was coming from. Kelly broke the record; the one I've wanted since I was her age. The most rewarding part of all this is the acknowledgement I have received from all the coaches I respect. So many of them came up to me this week to congratulate me, and when they shook my hand they really meant it. It makes the last 4 years worth it. The difficult part is that now it's going to be a lot harder to retire this fall.

August 8th: I have marched around the pool deck tens of times, being introduced as a member of team Canada. However it has never felt this good, nor have I ever been so proud to represent my country. I still can't believe I am going to MALAYSIA!

August 29th: Although Nationals seems like decades ago, this camp has flown by very quickly. I didn't really know many of the girls coming into Vancouver, but I feel that I have gotten to know everyone fairly well. Tonight was a bit of a madhouse here in the dorms, everyone waited till the last minute to pack and everyone is on overdrive, ready to get this trip underway.

August 30th: Well we are ahead of schedule en route to Kuala Lumpur. It is a gorgeous Vancouver day today. We got to swim outside this morning, which was a beautiful way to end the camp and possibly my last workout ever at UBC. I have been having lots of "last time ever's" these days. I am probably driving everyone crazy with it, but I just don't want to take any moment for granted if it is going to be my last. Everyone seems pretty excited about the trip, but most are trying to stay calm for the ensuing 35 hours.

September 3rd: After what seemed like years, we finally arrived in KL. It wasn't until I was in the airport in LA that it actually hit me that I was going to Malaysia. Although this meet has been my goal since Atlanta, over the past six months I had begun to question my chances of making the team. Now that I am here I feel completely at home. The pool is set up just like Atlanta, outdoors but with a roof, and as you kick along the pool you can look out and see the sun come up and go down over buildings in the distance.

The Village is an anomaly in the city. It looks as though it was placed down from the sky, not built up from the ground. Otherwise it is the usual setup. Team Canada is in a good location, although I am a little scared about terrorism as we are sharing our area with Northern Ireland and Pakistan. Since Atlanta I've been pretty paranoid about this stuff. The food here is decent, I am glad I have been eating fish lately otherwise there would not be many options for vegetarians. There is a lot of great tropical fruit like papaya, mango and kiwi that I've been devouring. The rooms are set up in groups of 5, apartment style, and they are air conditioned, so it's quite comfortable. There is a bit of a rat scare, but I haven't seen any yet. The medical staff also warned us about getting dengue fever from infected mosquitoes. Now everyone is running around in a panicked frenzy, thinking that every bite is one step closer to a slow and painful death!

1998 Commonwealth Team rookie night
Click image for larger photo.

September 4th: The rookies are running around in true rookie fashion, wanting to partake in every offered event. The other night after dinner they dragged me to this Commonwealth Games welcoming event. I was quite skeptical and disinterested, but I ended up being very grateful to them for bringing me along. The performance was a showcase of Malaysian culture through music and dance. It was beautiful and well worth it. I guess the rookies can teach me more than I thought! We had Rookie Night tonight which was the best I've ever seen. It was a pageant and the rookies vied for the title of Ms. and Mr. Rookie '98. Liz (Warden) and Rick (Say) won with a great dance performance to the song Men in Black. I was a judge with Joanne (Malar), Steve (Clarke), and Owen (von Richter). We dressed up as the Spice Girls and performed our own dance number before the show started. It was fun to see the guys in bikini tops. It made the rookies a lot more comfortable to see us make fools of ourselves too.

September 11th, 6:30 pm: Today is opening ceremonies. I am still undecided if I will take part, but I am leaning towards going. I hurt my back in workout a few days ago and have missed several functions since then-a BBQ at the High Commissioner's house and dinner with Sheila Copps-but I think openings will only take a few hours. Canada gets to march out first since we hosted the last Games, so we could be out of there in less than two hours. Nothing is quite as exhilarating as those first few steps into the stadium, and the crowd will be full of energy, ready to cheer for us. Perhaps I have just talked myself into going...we will see.

September 11th, 9 pm: Well I decided to march out and I completed the process in just over one hour-definitely record time. In Atlanta we spent eight hours in transit. Steve, Shamek, Garret, and I skirted the whole process and made our way to the stadium by ourselves, just in time to join the team as they marched out of the tunnel. Over 100,000 people cheered our arrival as the first team out on the track. Our neatly formed rows of six quickly turned into a jumbled mess of athletes running around throwing frisbees and taking crazy action shots of one another. We decided that it was our outfits that were to blame for the chaotic march out. Clothed in sweats and runners, Team Canada could not be contained and the swimmers were right there in the middle of it all. Everyone was excited to see that our little group had made it, but before I knew it, we were around the track and out the door, back to the village. Now the meet is about to begin. I almost forgot that is what we are here for-it seems like we've been in the village forever.

September 12th, 10:30 pm: The heats weren't that exciting this morning as the "sold out" crowd didn't show up until prelims were almost over, but tonight the largely Australian and Malaysian crowd was outstanding. For the first time in my career I saw Canada go one-two as Joanne and Liz swept the women's 400 IM. It was beautiful to see two Canadian flags flying, and everyone sang along with the anthem. Ian Thorpe, the fifteen-year-old Aussie who looks about twenty, became the second man I've seen to miss Lamberti's world record by only one one-hundredth of a second. Perhaps he will get to lead out the relay tomorrow night and give it another try. It is always great to see a world record. I don't know if there will be any more chances. I get to shave tomorrow. I can't wait to get things going.

September 14th, 1:30 pm: My roomie Courtenay won a silver medal last night in the 200 breaststroke. I am excited for her, but it is hard to watch. She's 13, it's her first international meet, and she won a silver. I went slower in my 100 backstroke heat this morning than I did when I was 14. Some days you do everything right to prepare but it just isn't there. I am trying to keep this fun, but it is hard to feel such emotions when I swim so poorly. I just want this story to have a happy ending.

September 14th, 10:30 pm: Well I am queen of the banana heat-better than this morning and a lot more fun! But the night definitely belonged to Mark (Versfeld) and Greg (Hamm), getting first and third in the 200 back. Mark broke the Aussie streak that had lasted since the end of the first night and I couldn't be any happier for Greg, who is such a hard worker. It is great to see deserving people swim well, it is what I love about this sport.

It is hard watching the distance free events. I wish so much that I could still compete with those girls.

I've been meeting so many great people since we got here. Not only swimmers from other countries, but more of my fellow Canadians. Usually the swimmers are so isolated from the other sports, but this trip has been very different. Last week all the sports participated in a Kareoke night. Everyone had a great time and the women's 4x100 relay did a smashing rendition of the Barry Manilow hit, "Copacabana." The men's field hockey team has been cheering us on at the pool every morning and Mike Smith even showed up at the pool tonight to watch swimming. Garret and I went to see the Canadian Cricket team play last week, so a bunch of them returned the support by coming to the pool last night. The Commonwealth Games has such a different atmosphere than the Olympics, it really is the "Friendly Games." I didn't notice last time because I was so focused on swimming that I didn't open myself up to the experience. So other than the Aussie onslaught, team Canada is golden.

September 16th: I don't know which is worse, my feelings of anger this morning after almost missing the final or my feeling tonight of sheer disappointment at a less-than-ideal final performance. There was a time in my career when tonight's swim would have taken me months to recover from mentally. Tonight I am sad and disappointed, but having learned to swallow my pride over the last few years, I know that this swim will not set me back too far. I could barley contain myself during the CBC interview after the race when I was asked about my swim and the Games. I said that it will be hard to retire, and it certainly will be difficult to end on such a poor note. After Atlanta I seriously contemplated retiring, but deep down I couldn't do it, there was so much more I knew I could accomplish. Today I don't want to retire, I don't want to close this chapter of my life, and I don't want to give up this sport I love so much.

September 19th: Yesterday a group of us flew to Tioman Island in the South China Sea. It was beautiful, exactly what I had imagined Malaysia to look like. We stayed in huts on the beach overlooking the sea with a rainforest jungle behind us. It was very relaxing after the craziness of KL. Today we headed downtown to the markets in Chinatown where everyone has been buying fake watches and Malaysian crafts. The city is such a mix of cultures; Chinese and Indians stand side by side looking at Muslim inspired colonial buildings. It certainly is a city rich in history and beauty.

Closing ceremonies - back row Tim Peterson, Greg Hamm, Nikki Dryden, Garret Pulle, in the foreground Brent Sallee.
Click image for larger photo.

September 21st: None of us can believe that all this is over already. Closing Ceremonies are always fun, all the athletes get to storm the field and everyone runs around the track as fast as they can. But it's also the saddest part of the trip, during those few moments when the flag is lowered and the Queen officially closes the Games it is hard to hold back the tears, especially when I know this could be the last time I get to experience all of this. I've been using the conditional tense in the last few days because I don't want it to be over. It was easy to plan out my retirement when I was in heavy training, having to wake up at 5 am to go to morning workout, but it was almost impossible to stand on that field surrounded by 100,000 cheering fans and thousands of my fellow friends and athletes and proclaim that, yes, I will be able to leave this life behind me. I guess only time will tell whether I can continue to do the work it takes to be an elite athlete, or if I will choose to let this moment be my last.

September 22nd: The hardest part of any trip is saying goodbye, harder still when I am saying goodbye forever. I will see most of my teammates again-I've been telling them that New York isn't that far away. Some of the other swimmers from Australia, New Zealand, and England have been my friends ever since I made the National team. Saying goodbye to them made it permanent, that I would not be back for that little meet the Aussies are hosting down in Sydney in 2000.

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