In April 2018 I attended the Commonwealth Games swimming in Australia. The venue was a 50m outdoor pool on the Gold Coast south of Brisbane with seating for 8,000 spectators. I had forgotten the excitement of major live events; last time being the 2005 World Championships in Montreal. Granted you see more detail on television but totally miss the atmosphere! The extremely partisan Australian crowd really got behind their team. Their Women’s 4 X 100 Freestyle Relay set a World Record of 3:30.05 on the first night, with Cate Campbell anchoring in 51.00, the fastest relay split ever. Another highlight was the Women’s 100 Backstroke final. Despite torrential tropical rain, both the winner Canadian Kylie Masse (58.63) and second place local Emily Seebohm (58.66) finished within 0.6 sec of Masse’s world record from Rio. There were also upset victories by swimmers from countries neighbouring Ireland. Duncan Scott of Scotland (with really great stroke technique) won a very tight Men’s 100 freestyle in 48.05, while Alys Thomas from Wales won the Women’s 200 butterfly in a superb 2:05.46. The latter is 28 years old and has persisted through sometimes difficult times. In the shorter fly events her stroke lacks flow, whereas it really worked in this longer event. While the Commonwealth Games only involves about one third of the world’s top swimmers, the results were of a very high standard. Teams from smaller countries get to compete for final and podium positions, with for example the team from Northern Ireland performing very well.
For me there were several “take home” messages which I think are relevant at club level:
- In general, the medallists had the best techniques in terms of starts, turns finishes and underwater and particularly surface strokes. To be the best one must optimise fitness and technique. The skilled and fit swimmer will nearly always beat the “just” fit swimmer! Do you know what works best for you and think about it all the time in practice?
- Top swimmers do far more warming up and down than most Irish swimmers. I know this is constrained by absence of additional practice facilities at many venues. However, where these are available at, for example, most Irish National events, I think we don’t use them enough.
- Most swimmers at the Commonwealth Games were aged between 18 and 30. Swimmers are physically best at these ages. Why do so many individuals of great potential in SWSC quit when in their mid-teens? With detailed organisation it is possible to excel both in swimming and at school. In fact, a recent study by an English neurologist has indicated that people do better in exams if they continue to do reduced training. My friend Jim Martin, who coached SWSC with me in the early 1970s and is now Head of Medicine at McGill University in Montreal, says that sportspeople make the best PhD students, because of their level of planning and their determination. As a University educator, I heartily agree! We want individuals to treat swimming as a lifelong sport through Masters events and triathlon!
The European Championships are being held in Glasgow from 3-9 August this year. I hope you will be watching. I know I will! See you at the Summer Nationals!