The 17 -year-old Canadian swimmer was a great hope for golden in 1968 but she could only administer silver-tongued, and observed the hurting of demolish nearly too much to bear

On a cold, rainy February morning in 1988, Elaine Tanner was alone. She sat on the jagged stones overlooking the Burrard Inlet in West Vancouver, staring out at the water. The curves tempted a woman in despair.

I felt like there was no hope, she told the Guardian. Nowhere to go.

Twenty years had elapsed since Mighty Mouse as the 5ft 3in Tanner was dubbed by a nation that adored her stepped onto the starting blocks with amber in her sees. She was Canadas greatest hope for a float amber award at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, but that never occurred. After two decades of misery over is inadequate to win that honour, Tanner examined out at the water. The tide made brutal brandishes up onto the stones below. She pondered what it would be like to dive into the liquid one final epoch, to be broom up in the current and attracted under, never to be seen again.

She depicted her own demise. Somehow, it seemed like the perfect route for a former dive champion to go. The little girl who had invested countless hours chasing an Olympic dream would become the persecuted ex-athlete who matched her death under the wavings of the western Canada waters.

She thought it would be an appropriate outcome to her story.


In the weeks leading up to the 1968 Olympics, there was talk about Mighty Mouse making three goldens, and the occurrence that seemed to be the most wonderful wager was the 100 m backstroke, Tanners specialty. She knew the challenger well, having reigned most of the field for a good part of two years. Kaye Hall, a 17 -year-old American who had been a competitor since they were both 12, was among the challengers. Tanner couldnt remember a era when molted lost to her.

When the final arrived on 23 October 1968, Tanner stood on the bricks and began to feel the pressure of a nation weighing on her shoulders. Suddenly this hasten experienced different than any other. One single design swim through her head.

What if I lose?

She felt her muscles tense up. Her body was beginning to shake, and powerlessness pas her, like all the fortitude had been sapped out of her. Terror swept over her. The pres was weeping her down.

Tanner tried to push it all away as the grease-gun set off and she dived into the liquid. The brand-new Canadian national swim tutor had advised her to start off gradually, to save her strength for the kick a strategy with which she didnt exactly concur. Hall was among the contestants who got off to a huge make at the shift, and Tanner could sense that she might not be able to make up the difference. She churned with all her might, closing the spread vastly down the extend, but she ran out of pool.

Hall finished a half-second before Tanner, in a world-record time of 1:06.2, the tips of her thumbs touching the wall just before Tanner shaped it there. She came up for breath, appearing the gravity of win. Canada gasped in disappointment.

She clambered out of the reserve, dripping soaked, and drew eye contact with Anne Walton, her best friend on the Canadian swim team. They approached one another, and Tanner fell into Waltons arms.

The medal ceremony, the press conference everything there is gone by in a blur. In the years that followed she would recollect nothing of it, simply that she used straying around in a trance-like commonwealth until a being reputation Harry Jerome wiped her out of the building. Jerome knew all too well what Tanner was going through, having descended short of Olympic beliefs as a favourite in the 100 m in the 1964 Tokyo Tournament. He took her out for a beverage, the first booze that has in the past touched her cheeks. It was Jeromes way of doing: Its OK. This is a moment to celebrate. Dont be ashamed about triumphing a silver medal.

The gesture took away Tanners anguish for a short while, but the celebration ended there. The headline in one Canadian newspaper the next day was: Tanner fails gold.

The silver medal molted earned in the 100 m backstroke ended a 40 -year medal drought for Canadas swim team, and she was the first Canadian girl to deserve a award in swimming. But nothing of that mattered.

In the days that followed, Tanner had gone on to win another silver medal and a bronze, constituting her the first female swimmer in Canadian Olympic history to take home three medals.

And hitherto all anyone recollected was that shed lost something on gold.

Tanner rendered from Mexico City to her mothers Vancouver home. But even those parts little consolation. The empathy and approval molted hoped to find there was absent, replaced by the following paragraph displeasure. In one of the only gossips she “wouldve been” have with her mothers about the Olympic performance, Elaine Tanner afterwards remembered being told: Well, it wasnt very fun for us, you know.

She left home soon afterwards, lost and distraught, with nowhere to turn. Her life became a downward spiral, ended only momentarily by lights of lighter. She married in her early 20 s and had two children, but the wedding melted then nine years later. Tanner and her husband, Ian Nahrgang, divorced in 1980, each agreeing to take imprisonment of one child. Nahrgang and their son, Scott, endeavoured to Prince George, a nine-hour drive away. Their two-year-old daughter, Shannon, was so disheartened at being held separately from her brother that Tanner had to make a choice.

She announced her ex-husband Ian, who refused to let Scott leave home. And so Elaine did what she would come to call the hardest the actions of my life. She mailed her daughter north, to Prince George, so that Shannon would be reunited with her brother and leader. I hollered barrels, Tanner would later recall.

Alone again, Tanners life punched a brand-new low-grade. She traveled across the Canadian country, searching for something she couldnt fairly identify. There were other males to come in and out of her life, but nothing of them deposit around for long. Shed interviewed for jobs in retail sales, in sports marketing, exchanging encyclopaedium, as a concoction waitress and a sport head; no one would hire her. She designed sports apparel and a line of jewelry, but couldnt come up with the money to get started. Tanner couldnt find any sort of steady run and was losing her will to live.

Along the style, Tanner shed herself of the Olympic awards that seemed to weigh her down for most of early adulthood. Theyd been stashed in a sewing paraphernalium in the back of her auto. She gladly sided them over to the British Columbia Hall of Fame, freeing herself of the physical reminders of her failure.

To be honest, it was almost luggage, she enunciated. It wasnt genuinely facilitating me to move my life on in a positive direction. I didnt have a problem getting rid of them.

Tanner was meandering through life, a life that was quickly forgetting all gist. By the springtime of 1988, around the time of her 37 th birthday, Tanner noticed herself sitting on the rocks staring out at a body of water, ready to give up.

She only couldnt bringing herself to dive in.

Something inside of me, she remembered, “its like” a bit voice: Elaine, theres a ground for everything. I didnt know what that symbolized, but there was a little expres that responded: One day, youll understand; it will make sense.

She turned away from the irrigate, stumbling up the stones and back to her car. She had nowhere to go and nothing to do, but Tanner opened the door, sat down in the motorists tush and started the engine.


A few months legislated. It was the summer of 1988, and she reluctantly agreed to go on a blind date.

Thats when Tanner met a being named John Watt, his life serving as a arena analyse on psychological sorenes. “His fathers” had recently died from cancer before his mother remarried and was killed by a wino operator. Not long after that, Watt and a police officer detected their own bodies of his only brother, who kill herself. Whatever stability Watt found in the aftermath was splintered by a divorce and a series of business projects that were on the verge of collapsing when he gratified Tanner.

They didnt precisely hit it off. Watt was attracted to her smile and species attentions, but he has recognised that part of what gleaned him to her was a linkage he felt to the anguish that radiated off of her. She was extremely in pain and hurt, he recalled. She was smiling,[ but] with my background, I could see through it.

He watched Tanner pick at a muffin with her fingernails, as if she was savoring each morsel and trying to make it last longer. When that time was over, Watt peeled off two $100 invoices and sided them to the pretty maiden with the happy sees. Tanner took the money, then clambered onto a beat-up 10 -speed bicycle and pedaled off. Watt watched her go.

I find sorry for her at the time, he remembered. I truly got a lot of empathy for her. She was very thin. To be quite honest, I was quite a bit worried welfare.

They went on a few more years, and Tanner began to open up to him. Watt received himself thinking: I dont know if I requirement this luggage on top of my own.

They floated apart after a few cases times, eventually coming back together in San Francisco. So inaugurated a tour that took them from California to Colorado to Maine. From the United States to Eastern Canada to British Columbia.

They married in 1993, but she was still unable to find work or much stability. The sadness that had percolated so much of her adulthood continued to follow her like a dark cloud.

Then one sunny daylight in 2011, as Tanners 60 th birthday approached, she was driving alone in Ontario when a familiar carol, The Impossible Dream, came on the radio.

To dream the impossible daydream/ To fight the unbeatable foe/ To bear the unbearable sorrow/ To run where the fearles do not go

The song, cleared famous by Frank Sinatra, had been a favourite of hers in the summer of the mid-1 960 s, when, as a teenager, she used to train in the swimming pool while dreaming of the Olympics. It was as if Tanner had traveled in time, and she could vividly remember what it had been like to pursue a dream.

This is my quest/ To follow that hotshot/ No matter how hopeless/ No matter how far…

It dawned on her, in that moment, that shed wasted so much better epoch chasing a gold medal that shed forgotten that there were other honors out there. There were other seeks, so to speak. Quest beyond amber. The phrase popped into Tanners honcho in that moment, and she knew that it meant something.

When she eventually convened up with Watt that day, Tanner was in tears. They were rends of hope.


Tanner is better now. Shes not perfect, but shes better. Shes spotted hope, and thats a great target to be after years and years of walking around in despair.

Shes a grandmother, and her adult children have allowed her back into their lives. She endured a 2011 automobile disintegrate, in which she was trapped inside her vehicle while Watt, her husband of 18 years, raced to help young preys in a nearby academy bus. Shes written a childrens notebook and is working on a memoir about her direction toward amber. She even has a website, called, of course, Quest Beyond Gold.

Tanner gazes back at her tour without any feel of unhappines. She is open to telling her legend to anyone who asks, despite her private sort, and shes hugged the struggles.

Losing may have killed her nightmare, but it didnt kill her. We all follow out challenges and contends in “peoples lives”, she adds. It doesnt matter what you do, we all face loss. Its part of life. Its more what you do with it than the adversity. Thats why I wanted to share my story.

A few years ago, Tanner was mining through one of her suitcases when she stumbled upon two of her Olympic medals, which she had forgotten had been returned to her by the British Columbia Hall of Fame. She just realise them.

You know, John, this isnt me any more, she remembers telling him. Ive let it go. I told athletic croak. Lets auction them off, then exploit whatever is raised to do something good.

Watt agreed, and the medallions were sold, along with a swimming trunks from Tanners Olympic year. The husband who purchased its consideration of this agenda item, a retired dentist, ceased up donating them to the Swimming Hall of Fame.

Soon enough, an amazing thing happened. When Tanner seemed back on her Olympic experience, she saw success instead of collapse. The public view soon followed, as its first year faded the reminiscences of failed gold and record embarked retelling a narrative of the 17 -year-old girl who drew home three awards the most embellished swimmer in the stories of Canadian float to that point.

Now I can look back, and Im so proud of what I reached, and what I reached, she adds. Its really its significant message.

One that shes lastly ready to spread.

In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In Australia, the crisis support assistance Lifeline is on 13 11 14.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here