Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Final Countdown

There’s less than two weeks to go until the start of the greatest sporting event ever to hit our shores and I am struggling to contain my excitement..

When the Olympic torch completes its 8,000 mile relay across the UK and comes to rest in the Olympic Stadium, all the talking will stop and all the action will begin.  16 days of competition will see hearts broken, dreams made and champions born.

Whether you represent the stars and stripes of America or the Golden Eagle of Zambia, all athletes start as equals. Only the fittest, fastest, strongest and toughest athletes will stand above anyone else on the podium.

Eyes on the prize

Everything has gone brilliantly since qualification way back in March.  I’m really pleased with the training I’ve done, the weights I’ve lifted and the shape I’m in.  As I might never get to perform on this stage again, I’m leaving no stone unturned in my preparations.

Most of our time since the trials has been spent abroad.  A three week training camp in Florida was followed by competition in the south of France and just this week I returned from 10 days of training in Tenerife.  Now we start the final block of work before steadily winding down as the Olympics approaches.

From a very early age my ultimate ambition was to stand on the podium at an Olympic games. I can almost guarantee that London 2012 will be my last Olympics, so this marks the last chance to realise my dream.

Over the past decade I’m extremely proud to have represented my country at every level and on numerous occasions. I’ve won medals at European juniors, Commonwealth, European and world level.  But although I’ve come extremely close on the past two occasions, I’ve never quite managed the big one: an Olympic medal. 

This is my last chance to realise the dream I’ve nurtured for many years.  I would gladly return all my career medals for this one moment of glory in London.

On July 31st I believe we have a real chance of doing something special in the 4x200 Freestyle Relay.  Olympic gods will have to be smiling on us, but with a 17,500 partisan crowd and the backing of a great nation, anything is possible.

Thank you

Me on the right, with my mate Andy.
It’s taken millions of lengths, 22 years of sacrifices and an enormous amount of hard work to get here, but I wouldn’t change anything. Swimming has made me the person I am today, which I’m grateful for. 

I would never have reached this stage without the help of a number of great coaches going back as far as my hometown club, Belper Marlins.  From there I moved on to the City of Derby before finally settling in Loughborough at the high performance centre. 

We have a big team of support staff around us at Loughborough and my thanks go out to everybody I have ever worked with, whatever part you played in developing my career.  Without the people I wouldn’t have made one Olympics, never mind three.

I’m also grateful to everyone who has supported me financially.  Whether big or small, it’s unlikely you’ll ever quite know how much it’s helped.

My family’s belief and encouragement over the past 22 years has been incredible.  From being the taxi drivers in the early parts of my career, taking me to and from training and never making it seem like a chore, to funding the majority of it along the way, their faith has been amazing.  I hope to have repaid them a little over the years. 

Another important person who has made many sacrifices is my fiancé, Claire.  We could never just go away for a few days because I always had training and we could never do anything too extreme in case I got injured.  She tolerates my bad moods after a disappointing swim and makes sure my tea is on the table when I get home from training.

Having said all of that, one of my key motivating factors is to make my nation proud.  I’m proud to be British and proud to represent Team GB. 

Thanks to everyone for following my journey up to now.  It’ll be an honour to compete at my third Olympics and thinking of all your support should give me that extra edge. 

Now it’s my turn! 

Friday, 15 June 2012

More race practise, hard training and a bike ride plan

We're all set for the 6 week period before the final stages of training and the Olympic Games..

Next week I’m racing at the ASAs but I’m not resting or shaving.  Both eyes are firmly set on the Olympics now and to rest and shave down would jeopardise my fitness for Olympics.  Nothing is getting in the way of that.

For any British athlete this is the biggest occasion we will ever have the opportunity to swim in.  While I would love to swim in the individual event and every day in every session, performance-wise I must focus solely on the relay because, as slim as it might be, we do have a chance of achieving something special.

In a couple of weeks we have the kitting out for the Games. Kitting out is probably one of the most exciting experiences for any athlete going to the Olympic Games.  Having been to the last two Olympic Games, I know how exciting it is walking around, picking up clothes as you go, then walking away with 40-50 kilogrammes worth of kit.  When you walk away with all the kit, unique to just 550 athletes, it is a proud and sweet moment.

From there we’ll board a flight to Tenerife for our final preparation camp.  As it’s the final chance to do some hard training before we rest, we’ll spend 10 days there before coming back and heading to the holding camp in Edinburgh.  In Edinburgh we’ll start resting and focusing on the performances we want to have in London.


After arriving back from Florida, two and a half weeks were spent in Loughborough continuing the hard work.  We created a large base to build from, which felt like a progression individually and as a unit.  It was an important time for us as we started going into a racing phase of practise, using what we’d been working on in training and putting it to good use.  The idea is that, come the Olympics, everything will be second nature.

Over that fortnight we had our British summertime.  The sun was out, it was hot and it was also my birthday during that time.  With so many birthdays spent away at training camps down the years, it was nice to be at home for this one and spend it with Claire and the family.
With the Princess of Monaco.

Training then led up to a five day training camp in Canet, Southern France, before racing the Mare Nostrum tour.  As soon as we left the UK the rain hit Britain but luckily didn’t follow us.  Training in the heat allowed us to escape from any bugs or illnesses doing the rounds at home and put in some solid training.

We didn’t rest for the Mare Nostrum tour and went out early to ensure there was no break in training.  We wanted to race under pressure, practising our race skills, which is essentially what we did.
Out of swimwear at a Mare Nostrum event.

I was pleased with my performance in the 200 metre Freestyle, producing another time under 1.50 - always the benchmark, so right on target.  We competed against an array of talent from across the world, including a strong Australian team who aren’t going to the Olympics.  Well rested, shaved and at the top of their form, they provided good head-to-head rivalry in what was their major competition.  The French are also especially strong in the men’s events and it’s always good racing against the best in the world.  Unfortunately we didn’t beat them but it shows how far you are away and what needs to be worked on between now and the Games.

We then travelled to Monaco for the next leg of the tour.  Having never visited Monaco before, I’d never seen anything quite like it. We opened our bedroom curtains to see £40m yachts, Ferraris, Lamborghinis: a completely different world which shows how the richest percentile can live.  If you weren’t strong minded enough it could be depressing, but we were obviously there to do a job.

The 200 metre Freestyle was again my best event, with another time under 1.50 achieved, and quicker than in Canet.  It proved everything was moving in the right direction, leaving me pleased with my skills and race tactics.  We are on track for the 6 week period before the final stages of training and the Olympic Games.


After London I’m planning a little bike trip with Rebecca Adlington, Joanne Jackson and City of Derby coach Mel Marshall, who I used to train with at Loughborough.  We’re doing a charity bike ride in Zambia: 300miles in four days.  Sitting here, I think I’ve totally underestimated how hard it will be.  I can’t imagine there will be many cycle paths and it’s pretty much the equivalent of cycling Loughborough to London three times in four days. 

We’re hoping to raise money for Sport in Action, which helps young people in Zambia to be more aware of HIV and AIDs, and also help sufferers of those diseases.  We’re also hoping to teach youngsters to swim and get them as active as possible.  If we can increase their life expectancy by one day then it’s a job well done.  Who knows, one smiling face might mean more to us than anything we achieve this summer. 

It promises to be an enjoyable but extremely challenging experience. I think we’ll see some horrific sights, and I’m prepared for that, but we do want to make a difference and raise as much money as possible.


I would just like to mention a couple of my sponsors Buymobiles.net and Wards Recycling.  Both are successful Derbyshire companies who I want to thank.  Results of their support will kick on in the next couple of months as we get closer to the Olympics and I am really grateful.  As both are Derby County Football Club fans, it all ties together well.  It’s great that they can support a local athlete and that I can reward them this summer.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Final training phases, racing practice and the saddest losses

After returning from a Florida training camp, we’re now moving into the final phases of training..

There’s now just seven weeks of work left before we start a three week taper into the Olympics.  A little under seven years ago it was announced that we’d get the Olympics and now we’re down to the last seven weeks of work.

We usually head off to warmer climates to avoid cold and flu bugs, but there’s also benefit to be had in breaking up a long block of training in Loughborough.  Changing the training stimulus and environment can help to break the monotony and make you feel better mentally, while it also helps to smooth the passage from one training phase to the next.

So a 13-day training camp in Florida was just what was needed as the next step to preparing for the Games.  We stepped up our training from a speed base to longer, more difficult sets which concentrate on speed endurance as we move into a new phase in our pre-Olympic training block.

Instead of focussing hard on both fitness and speed at the same time, extra fitness is added once the basic speed is achieved.  This makes sense because the more fatigued you get, the less speed you carry, both through training and races.

Although the weather was good, there were a few thunderstorms during our time out there.  But if it rains when you’re training outdoors it doesn’t make a difference - we’re wet anyway!

We’ve been to the Florida pool before and the family who run the motel are very accommodating, occasionally providing us with some home cooked meals.  We normally look after ourselves but it’s great to return from training to a nice spread.

Now we have another two weeks in Loughborough now before travelling to Canet in the South of France for a week long training camp.  The plan is to race for two days in the Mare Nostrum Series and then travel to Monaco to race there for two days, which I’m really excited about as I’ve seen the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix on television, but never visited until now.  I’ve competed in the Mare Nostrum for the last 8 or 9 years but never in that leg, so it’ll be nice to get there and see it at last.

Fundamentally though, it’s all about race practice ahead of the Olympics.

I’ll be competing at the ASA Nationals in Sheffield too but won’t be tapering off my efforts.   The mission now is to reaffirm my place in Great Britain’s top four for the relay team.  Not tapering means that I might not be race sharp at the ASA, which means I might not be as competitive; but it does mean that by the time of the Olympics I will be as fit as possible and raring to go – which is all that matters.

We have a really strong relay team and I think there’s an outside chance of a medal, which would be the icing on the cake for me as it’s my third Olympic Games.  I’ll give everything I’ve got to achieve that.  It’s been close in the last two Games, coming 4th in Athens and 6th in Beijing.  This will be my last Olympics and to win a medal in front of my home crowd would be fantastic.


We heard some terrible news while we were away.  The Norwegian Breaststroke World Champion, Alexander Dale Oen passed away after a training session.  I didn’t know him personally but we were based at the same place during a winter training camp and he came over to have a chat with us. He was a really nice guy and looked every inch the World Champion. 

It was shocking to hear the news and just shows how nobody is invincible. He was odds on favourite to add the Olympic medal to his World Crown so it’s devastating news for the swimming world, and of course for his friends and family.

It was also sad to see Derby in the national news for all the wrong reasons after the tragic death of six children in a house fire.  I always keep tabs on Derby news so to read about that was really sad.   

As if that wasn’t enough, a few days ago seven year-old Lewis Mighty lost his battle with cancer.  Lewis and his family were responsible for some hugely impressive fundraising campaign efforts and he will be massively missed.  My thoughts are with these local families.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Lewis-Mighty-Fund/168731214213 http://www.lewismightyfund.org.uk/

They say bad news comes in threes, so hopefully that’s all for now. 

To end on a lighter note, as a proud Derbyshire man I’m looking forward to keeping an eye out for any others who make it through to the Games too.  Let’s hope there’s plenty!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Under 100 days to The Olympic Games

This week saw the mark of 100 days until the London 2012 Olympic games!

It’s now less than 100 days before an estimated 4 billion people, or around two thirds of the planet, cast their watchful eye over our capital city to see the Olympic flame being lit.

Knowing I’ll be amongst the 500 athletes competing for Team GB is still sinking in.  I really do appreciate what a privileged position I am in, and it’s one I’m determined to take full advantage of.  Having an Olympics in your country happens once in a blue moon; the chance of being an athlete at the top of your game when that blue moon comes around is a one in a million.

After the qualifying trials in London I took a small break: 4 days off to recharge the batteries and refocus on the next competition, The London Olympic Games!  My fiancée Claire and I went to north Devon for a long weekend with the dogs during the week of blistering British sunshine and glorious temperatures.  It was the first time either of us had been to north Devon since we were children and it is truly beautiful. We had a lovely time and it was just what we needed. 

On returning from Devon I had to re-evaluate what I wanted to achieve this summer.  At the trials I was so focussed on making the team that nothing else mattered.  As soon as the box was ticked, both eyes turned immediately to The Games.  My objective now is to grasp the Olympic opportunity as fully as I can, giving every last drop of effort between now and The Games in our mission to win a medal.

With a new target in mind, I faced the dreaded task all athletes hate: getting back into shape.  The past three weeks have been what I can only describe as painful, thanks to a remit of increasing strength, speed and fitness. We do this by employing a range of various, not always textbook methods, to get us fit, keep us sharp and keep us interested.

Swimming can be a very lonely sport so mixing things up helps to keep us mentally stimulated.  Trampolining is great for a cardio workout as well as toning core muscles.  It’s been surprising to find that bouncing around on a bit of cloth attached to some springs is genuinely much harder than it looks.

It’s been an enjoyable month out of the pool too. 

Like most people, I occasionally find myself in situations where I don’t belong: some of them good, some not so good.  A couple of weeks ago I was invited along with Claire to the World Premier of the Titanic 3D film.  I had no idea what to expect but was blown away to find myself walking down the red carpet, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kate Winslet and James Cameron, the Oscar-winning director of Titanic and Avatar.  It felt like it shouldn’t happen to a boy from Belper, Derbyshire!  Besides being in 3D, the film was exactly the same as it was 15 years ago, but the evening was magical.

I also managed to witness my boyhood football team Derby County beat our local rivals Nottingham Forest.  It was a great match and memorable night because it was the first time Derby had beaten Forest in both the home and away matches for 40 years. That night I was invited by the Derby County board to watch the match from the Directors’ box and apparently I was sitting directly behind Tulisa, a judge from the X-factor.  If I’d known I would have asked for a photo.

With a little more time to spare this month, the wedding plans have started falling into place, which is a welcome distraction from the hours and hours of training.  One thing we managed to do was create the “Save the date cards”, with a little help from the dogs. What you can’t see on the picture is a piece of rump steak hanging in the air to get their attention.

Next up is a new phase of training.  Lucky for me, this will be out in Florida!

Thanks for your continued support.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Team GB qualification the bright spot of mixed fortunes

Qualification week was always set to be a highly emotional, stress-packed time, and so it turned out..

Olympic trials are often the hardest competition any athlete will take part in. So much is at stake because failure means redemption isn’t possible for at least another four years.

Feeling that you can’t put your personal shortcomings right for at least another four years is one thing, but missing out on representing your country at the greatest sporting event in the world is altogether another.  For winners and qualifiers it’s the greatest week of their lives, but for everybody else it can be soul-destroying. 

My Olympic trials were filled with mixed emotions.  While I frustratingly didn’t perform to the standard I know I can – and have – performed, I still qualified for what will be my third and most important Olympic games.

For some reason it just didn’t happen for me.  I went into the week with great confidence and sailed through the heats and semi-final with little problem, even managing to ease back in both rounds.  By the time the final came around, I was looking to win and feeling able to win it.  But win it I didn’t, with fourth place the outcome. 

Although in finishing fourth I qualified for a place in the relay team, which was my qualification contingency plan.  The primary objective for the week was to qualify for Team GB at the London Olympic Games and that is ultimately what I achieved. 
Pic courtesy of GBSwimstars

To say I’m relieved is an understatement.  The pressure of making the team is now off.  With two Olympic Games under my belt, I’ve been in this position before and know that the next six months are full of opportunity and enjoyment. It’s why as athletes we do what we do, to work hard but also enjoy what it brings.

This isn’t to say I’ll be taking my foot off the gas.  If anything, not earning the individual spot has made me more determined to make the relay team the best it possibly can be. We currently have a really talented relay team and I believe with strong support we can be right up there competing.  One thing is for sure: capacity crowds of 17,500 in the new National Aquatic Centre will make our job much easier.  If the support of the crowd and of the nation gives us just a fraction of a second extra, it could make all the difference.  I genuinely believe the crowd can do this!

This year all the usual pressures have been magnified tenfold.  Going to an Olympic games is an outstanding achievement in its own right, but to qualify for an Olympic Games in your home country is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity.  To be at your physical peak at a time when your country hosts the most prestigious sporting event in the world, that simply doesn’t happen for most athletes.  

Everyone in Team GB now has the responsibility to do our country proud, to wear the colours of the Union Jack with integrity and perform to the best of our abilities.

Thanks should be given to everyone who helped put on a world-class event for the Olympic trials.  I hope all the volunteers now feel apart of our journey because without them we wouldn’t have this amazing opportunity.  Hats off to you all, the unsung stars of the show.

Thanks too to everyone who has followed and supported me – not just in the past 6 months but throughout my career.  Without your help and support I wouldn’t have reached where I am today.

The journey is only just hotting up and I hope you’ll stick with me for the ride. London here I come!

Friday, 24 February 2012

Crunch time is almost here

With the Olympic trials now just around the corner, the result of the past seven months of long hard slog, sweat and tears, will soon be known.  In or out.

All the talking will fade and swimming will start to make the noise.

A couple of weeks ago I returned home from another training camp, this time in Tenerife.  Facilities in Tenerife are some of the best in the world for all sports and it certainly helps having a 12-month summer. 

Most of my winter has been spent outside of the UK in sunnier surroundings, mainly in a bid to keep healthy and free of viruses.  As a result our whole Loughborough squad has avoided illness and injury, and we’re looking in great shape.

It’s been really great working and training with the best swimmers in Britain.  We all motivate and inspire each other every day to push the boundaries and do Great Britain proud.  Hopefully we can all qualify, before marching onto London in the summer and bringing home silverware (goldware)!

But first comes qualification.  During one week at the British Championships, goals will be achieved and dreams will be shattered in the effort to represent Great Britain at our home Olympic Games.

Personally I can’t wait to get to London and see the venue where the greatest stars of the aquatic world will converge in little over five months.  I’m also thrilled at the prospect of competing in the Olympic Pool and having the opportunity to qualify for Team GB.

All the training is done.  The last seven months have been physically and emotionally demanding.  Now it’s time to put my feet up as much as possible, fine tune the skills and prepare mentally for what will be a highly charged and stressful week.  Hopefully it will end in ecstasy.

The past season has gone really well and I’m happy with my performance in the competitions and with the training.  Now it comes down to putting it all together in 200 metres.

Thank you to everyone who has helped, supported and followed me through this journey, including the guys at TBS Enterprise Mobility who have helped me to communicate with you through social media. I really hope you've enjoyed the ride so far, and that it continues into the summer. Your support really is priceless.

Many thanks.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Happy New Year!

As The Big Year arrived, everything suddenly became much more real..

So 2012 is finally here.  As soon as big Ben struck 12am and the fireworks began, the London Olympic Games appeared to take a giant step closer. In that second the Olympic games became very, very real!

Whilst watching the rockets and colour light up the London skyline for what seemed like an eternity, I was flooded with a sense of extreme pride, excitement and nerves.

In that 11 minutes London was watched by millions of people around the world, giving us an insight into the levels of attention we can expect for the duration of the Games. The streets of London crammed with people, an event expertly showcased by a globally leading city, an atmosphere the rest of the world is stunned by, and a buzz which can overwhelm the fiercest cynics.  

Christmas was a very quiet affair for me this year, with only a couple of days off training over the festive period. It’s hard not being able to completely relax with friends and family but it’s one of many sacrifices I’m willing to take in order to compete at the Games in little over 6 months time.

One thing we all do as a family is a big dog walk on Boxing Day. It’s great to get out in the fresh air the day after Christmas and walk the Christmas pudding off.  We take a bracing walk over a golf course, through woods and alongside streams. The dogs love it and so do I!

The little time spent at home this year was a lovely. I do love Christmas so I try to make the most of it. Christmas dinner was spent at my fiancé Claire’s house, with her family in Melton Mowbray, before travelling back to Belper to spend time with my family.

New Year was also a low-key event.  Claire and I visited Claire’s sister, Amy.  She’s a chef with her own catering business so we were treated to an 8-course meal!  The food was amazing, and it was really nice relaxing in good company whilst taking in the New Year. 

Since then training has been going well. Things are pretty tough at the minute but there’s only a few more weeks left of hard training before we start resting up for the trials.

We arrived into Tenerife on Wednesday (18th January) for our last training camp before the trials. This camp provides the last intense training block and again gives the benefit of leaving the British winter and transferring to healthier climes.  On returning to the UK, our workload and its intensity will decrease.  This trip really is the final stretch on what has been a 7-year journey to qualify for the London Olympic Games.

Thanks for your support and I hope everyone has a great 2012.