The 17 -year-old Canadian swimmer was a great hope for amber in 1968 but she could only finagle silver-tongued, and found the pain of defeat virtually too much to bear

On a cold, rainy February morning in 1988, Elaine Tanner was alone. She sat on the jagged rock-and-rolls overlooking the Burrard Inlet in West Vancouver, staring out at the sea. The movements enticed the status of women in despair.

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

Twenty years had overtaken since Mighty Mouse as the 5ft 3in Tanner was dubbed by a nation that idolized her stepped onto the starting blocks with gold in her eyes. She was Canadas greatest hope for a float golden honour at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, but that never materialized. After two decades of anguish over is inadequate to win that honour, Tanner ogled out at the liquid. The tide produced brutal brandishes up onto the boulders below. She meditated what it would be like to dive into the water one final day, to be wiped up in the current and pulled under, never to be seen again.

She pictured her own death. 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 satisfied her extinction under the billows 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 paying three golds, and the happening that seemed to be the most wonderful pot was the 100 m backstroke, Tanners specialty. She knew the tournament 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 adversary since they were both 12, was among the challengers. Tanner couldnt recollect a period when shed lost to her.

When the final arrived on 23 October 1968, Tanner put on the impedes and began to feel the pressure of a commonwealth weighing on her shoulders. Abruptly this hasten find different than any other. One single ponder swam through her head.

What if I fail?

She felt her muscles tense up. Her body was beginning to shake, and powerlessness overtook her, like all the fortitude had been exhausted out of her. Horror swept over her. The pressing was weeping her down.

Tanner tried to push everything there is away as the artillery went off and she dived into the irrigate. The brand-new Canadian national swimming coach had advised her to start off slowly, to save her persuasivenes for the knock a strategy with which she didnt exactly agree. Hall was among the opponents who got off to a huge induce at the make-up, and Tanner could sense that she might not be able to even out certain differences. She churned with all her might, closing the crack greatly down the stretch, but she ranged out of pool.

Hall finished a half-second before Tanner, in a world-record period of 1:06.2, the tips of her fingers stroking the wall just before Tanner acquired it there. She came up for air, find the severity of win. Canada gasped in disappointment.

She climbed out of the consortium, dripping soak, and did attention linked with Anne Walton, her best friend on the Canadian swim team. They approached each other, and Tanner fell into Waltons arms.

The medal ceremony, the news conference it all went by in a blur. In the years that followed she would remember nothing of it, merely that she was wandering around in a trance-like state until a humanity named Harry Jerome whisked her out of the building. Jerome knew all too well what Tanner was going through, having descended short of Olympic anticipations as a favourite in the 100 m in the 1964 Tokyo Games. He took her out for a liquor, the first booze that had ever stroked her lips. It was Jeromes way of saying: Its OK. This is a moment to celebrate. Dont be ashamed about prevailing a silver medal.

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

The silver medal molted earned in the 100 m backstroke discontinued a 40 -year medal drought for Canadas swim team, and she was the first Canadian lady to pay 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, stirring her the first female swimmer in Canadian Olympic history to take home three medals.

And yet all anyone remembered was that shed lost something on gold.

Tanner recalled from Mexico City to her mothers Vancouver home. But even those quarterss provisioned little comfort. The rapport and carry shed hoped to find there was absent, replaced by the following paragraph regret. In one of the only communications she “wouldve been” have with her mothers about the Olympic performance, Elaine Tanner afterward recalled being told: Well, it wasnt very fun for us, you know.

She left home soon afterwards, lost and distraught, with nowhere to make-up. Her life became a downward coiling, ended only momentarily by lights of light-footed. She married in her early 20 s and had two children, but the wedlock evaporated 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 forlorn at being separated from her friend that Tanner had to make a choice.

She called her ex-husband Ian, who refused to let Scott leave home. And so Elaine attained what she would come to call the hardest decision of “peoples lives”. She cast her daughter north, to Prince George, so that Shannon would be reunited with her brother and papa. I exclaimed pails, Tanner would afterwards recall.

Alone again, Tanners life made a brand-new low-pitched. She traveled in all the regions of the Canadian country, searching for something she couldnt quite mention. There were other followers to come in and out of their own lives, but nothing of them put around for long. Molted interviewed for jobs in retail sales, in boasts market, selling encyclopaedium, as a cocktail waitress and a recreation chairman; 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 kind of steady piece and was losing her will to live.

Along the style, Tanner shed herself of the Olympic honours that seemed to weigh her down for most of early adulthood. Theyd been stashed in a sewing kit in the back of her vehicle. She gladly handed them over to the British Columbia Hall of Fame, freeing herself of the physical remembers of her failure.

To be honest, it was almost baggage, she said. It wasnt really helping me to move my life on in a positive tack. I didnt got a problem going rid of them.

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

She merely couldnt bring herself to dive in.

Something inside of me, she remembered, it was like a little tone: Elaine, theres a intellect for everything. I didnt know what that represented, but there was a little tone that said: One period, youll understand; it will make sense.

She turned away from the liquid, stumbling up the rocks and back to her car. She had nowhere to go and nothing to do, but Tanner opened the door, sat down in the moves accommodate 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 appointed John Watt, his own life serving as a plain consider on emotional hurting. His father has only died from cancer before his mother remarried and was killed by a drunkard operator. Not long after that, Watt and a police officer learnt the body of his only brother, who kill herself. Whatever stability Watt found in the aftermath was splintered by a divorce and a series of business ventures that were on the verge of collapsing when he satisfied Tanner.

They didnt exactly hit it off. Watt was attracted to her smile and nature sees, but he admitted that part of what drew him to her was a connection he felt to the sorrow that extended off of her. She was extremely in pain and ache, he remembered. 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 appointment was over, Watt peeled off two $100 proposals and sided them to the pretty wife with the pathetic eyes. Tanner took the money, then clambered onto a beat-up 10 -speed bicycle and pedaled off. Watt watched her go.

I appeared sorry for her at the time, he recalled. I truly had a lot of empathy for her. She was very thin. To be quite honest, I was quite to be concerned about her welfare.

They went on a few more dates, and Tanner began to open up to him. Watt experienced himself amazing: I dont know if I requirement this baggage on top of my own.

They floated apart after a few years, eventually coming back together in San Francisco. So inaugurated a pilgrimage 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 penetrated 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 lyric, The Impossible Dream, came on the radio.

To dream the impossible nightmare/ To fight the unbeatable foe/ To bear the unbearable sorrow/ To lope where the heroic do not go

The song, became famous by Frank Sinatra, had been a favourite of hers in the summer of the mid-1 960 s, when, as a girl, 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 was ready to chase a dream.

This is my quest/ To follow that adept/ No matter how futile/ No matter how far…

It dawned on her, in that moment, that molted spent so much era chasing a golden medal that shed forgotten that there were other reinforces out there. There were other searches, so to speak. Quest beyond gold. The motto popped into Tanners manager in that time, and she knew that it meant something.

When she lastly congregated up with Watt that day, Tanner was in tears. They were weepings of hope.


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

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

Tanner appears back at her pilgrimage without any gumption of dejection. She is open to telling her fib to persons who expects, despite her private nature, and shes espoused the struggles.

Losing may have killed her fantasy, but it didnt kill her. We all follow up challenges and strifes in “peoples lives”, she says. It doesnt matter what you do, we all face loss. Its part of life. Its more what the hell are you do with it than the misery. Thats why I wanted to share my story.

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

You know, John, this isnt me any more, she recalls telling him. Ive let it go. I let play start. Let auction them off, then call whatever is raised to do something good.

Watt concurred, and the medallions were sold, along with a swimming trunks from Tanners Olympic year. The man who purchased the items, a retired dentist, aimed up donating them to the Swimming Hall of Fame.

Soon enough, an amazing thing happened. When Tanner gazed back on her Olympic experience, she saw success instead of disappointment. The public attitude soon followed, as the years faded the recognitions of misplaced gold and history began retelling a narration of the 17 -year-old girl who produced dwelling three medals “the worlds largest” embellished swimmer in its own history of Canadian float to that point.

Now I can look back, and Im so proud of what I achieved, and what I fulfilled, she says. Its certainly an important message.

One that shes finally 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 busines Lifeline is on 13 11 14.


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