A Formula for Success in Rio
Saturday night marked the end of the 2016 Olympics, as far as swimmers are concerned. To finish it off, team GB secured a silver in the men’s 4x200m freestyle relay, making it Britain’s most successful medal haul in the pool for over 100 years.
Let’s take a brief look at the medals we managed to secure in the pool over a remarkable week:
Gold – Adam Peaty (100m breaststroke)
Silver - Jazz Carlin (400m freestyle, 800m freestyle); Siobhan O’Connor (200m individual medley); James Guy, Stephen Milne, Duncan Scott, Dan Wallace, Robbie Renwick (4x200m freestyle relay); Chris Walker-Hebborn, Adam Peaty, James Guy, Duncan Scott (4x100m medley relay)
This is a huge step above London 2012, where we walked away with three medals. Furthermore, there are many other solid finishes which aren’t talked about as much. This year, we also came away with 7 fourth-placed finishes. In many of those, we missed out by the smallest of margins.
So, how did team GB manage to double their medal count? We’re going to examine the different areas which we believe have contributed the most to swimming success this year.
Success Inspires Success
Every time there is a big sporting event, like the Olympics, the media always talks about legacy and inspiring a generation. It has become cliché and the general public is largely unaware of the ongoing impact national success has on our sport.
We believe that there have been several major turning points in the past four years to get to where we have this year. Firstly, in London, we saw Michael Jameson’s exciting 200 breaststroke, where he won silver. This certainly gave British breaststroke a much needed taste of success.
Additionally, Adlington sealed off her career with two bronzes in the same games in the 400m and 800m freestyle.
Our next major home event was the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Although competing for their individual nations, British swimmers celebrated much more success at these games than two years prior in London.
As a collective, the nations picked up a total of 38 combined medals at the meet. Notably, the British men made up the top seven finishers in the 200m breaststroke final.
This kind of success allows people to not only dream, but believe. In sport we see it time and time again. When one person breaks through the barrier, it opens the door for others to follow. We saw this gold rush carry on to the next world championships, where the likes of James Guy took down an incredibly strong field in the 200m freestyle. Britain enjoyed 9 medals in the pool, five of which were gold.
Both the 2014 Commonwealth Games and 2015 World Championships saw several breakthrough swims. Many of the medals picked up were by swimmers who were under the radar going into the meets.
Investment in Science
In recent years we have seen vast improvements in sports science and athlete testing. No longer is science an afterthought.
British swimmers undergo near-constant physiological testing each week, in and out of the pool. This helps them and their coaches understand their training limitations and what their optimal training zones are to achieve the best results.
This is looked at closely and we now structure our seasons and training based on the results from this testing. Training has become far more individualised to each athlete requirements. Not all that long ago, many training programmes were generalised and it was thought that more volume and longer sessions were better for all.
Furthermore, the top athletes are lucky to have access to excellent nutritionists and psychologists who advise them on making the most from each aspect of their lives to aid overall performance.
Building the Correct Foundations
It is also important to recognise input from grass root levels. It is crucially important that swimmers are ‘built’ correctly, from the ground up. A strong foundation for a good swimmer comes as early as swimming lessons, before making the move to a club.
Humans are naturally not very efficient in the water. Unlike running, swimming takes years of practise before ever looks completely natural. At lessons, swimming technique needs to be carefully and progressively built up as the child grows older.
Many mistakes are often made at this level of teaching. For example, you may see children asked to perform a certain distance before the technique is properly in place. This will lead to inefficient technique and a more survival form of swimming, rather than really moving the water in a deliberate action.
It is far more beneficial to have a child swim 10m with good technique than 1 length with poor technique.
From a good foundation on all four swimming strokes and a solid understanding of swimming as a sport (rather than just a survival skill) children will be far better equipped to not only go on to compete, but potentially swim out of a life-threatening situation. At this point, we hand the baton to our well established swimming clubs and hubs to take swimmers who choose to compete, to the next level.
At SwimEasy, we’re incredibly proud of the success of every athlete at Rio. We know first hand the commitment it takes to reach such a level. But, when you see what impact it can have on a nation, nobody can argue that it isn’t worth it.
Having already helped to produce some of the world’s best swimmers, who have competed at Commonwealth, European and World championships, we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next generations. We certainly hope we can do our bit in creating the next legacy.