Friday 20th / Saturday 21st August
Waking up on Friday meant having to put the disappointment of not having made the 100m fly final very much behind me. There was a team to think of now and we were really “up” to give it our best in the 4×100 medley relay. Everything went to plan in the heats and the team comprising yours truly (butterfly), James Gibson (breaststroke), Gregor Tait (backstroke) and Matt Kidd (freestyle) broke the British record to qualify as third fastest for the final in a time of 3:36.94.
When Saturday came we were ready to do battle. The atmosphere on the last night is always a bit special and going out after David Davies had taken another medal for GBR gave us some extra adrenalin. For David to smash the 14:50 barrier in the 1500m freestyle to take Bronze in his first Olympics is a great achievement and David is a fantastic prospect and the future of British distance swimming is in good hands (and feet !)
Unfortunately for us medley relay guys, qualifying third fastest meant swimming next to the Americans who had qualified fastest and, therefore, were in lane 4 and were going for a new World Record. Poor Gregor had to swim with Aaron Piersol who went out like a rocket (breaking the 100m back individual world record) and swimming next to him must have been like swimming in the wash of the QE2 ! We got murdered ! In the end, we finished eight (which sounds better than last) and were almost a second down on our qualifying time (and British record) from the previous day !
And so that was the end of the Athens Olympics, at least as far as swimming was concerned. Although, straight after Saturday night’s action in the pool, Team GB were back in the pool doing a time trial. I think it’s fair to say I wasn’t exactly in the mood and as soon as that was over I managed to “escape” and went into town to meet my family and girlfriend and that was really nice.
I suppose a lot of people back home are asking why, after all the hype and expectation did Team GB not win more medals? Afterall, we’d had a very good Commonwealth Games and an excellent World Championships so I think there was some justified optimism. However, the majority of performances in Athens (mine included) just weren’t good enough. Too many PB’s were left in Sheffield when they should have been delivered in Athens. Perhaps we got the timing of the trials wrong and peaked too early? The GB team went to swim in France at the French Nationals just after our Olympic Trials in April. Most of us were in tip-top shape (we had to be to make the qualifying standard that had been set for Trials) and we murdered the French, but in Athens, the French murdered us. Similarly, the USA didn’t have their Olympic Trials until a MONTH before the Games. Perhaps that is something that we need to look at? But let’s not be too downbeat. We did have some great performances and Rome (or Athens) wasn’t built in a day. We had to throw everything away after Sydney and start from scratch again in 2001. Three years isn’t a long time in swimming development terms. It will take seven or even eleven years for us to see the real “fruits” of our efforts, at least as far as Olympic medals are concerned. That would bring us nicely to 2012 and the possibility of Britain being the dominant force in the pool at our home Games in London. Let’s hope the 2012 bid is successful !
This is my last ever Olympic Diary entry. Did I say “ever”?…..wow ! Well it’s been a blast. I can’t really explain what it’s like to have the honour of representing your country at the highest level in sport over three Olympic Games. All I can say is I am one lucky guy and all the support you have given me over the years is fantastic. I’m not quite done yet, though ! I still have to go to Indianapolis in the USA to defend my World short course 200m butterfly title. It would be great to win that for a fifth consecutive time and I know that would be record that could stand for a very long time. This is JH signing off……..over and out !
Wednedsay 18th / Thursday 19th August
It was a long wait but day six of the Athens Olympics finally came and with it my chance to compete on the biggest sporting stage in the world. I figured all I had to in the morning was forget about the times and race against the “big guns” in my heat – Phelps, Rupprath, Huegill, Yamamoto. I knew if I could compete with them then I would be pretty sure of a place in the semi-finals. In the end, the plan worked perfectly and I was pretty pleased with my time of 52.9 which was just a fraction outside the PB which I set back in April. Infact, the trickiest part of the morning was dealing with a pretty unexpected question from Sharron Davies about lactic acid !! Thanks a bunch, Sharron. However, on a serious note, I knew that the semi-final would be faster and I needed to find a few tenths to guarantee a place in the final. In the morning I felt myself fade a little in the last 25m and my stroke rate dropped off a fraction so I was going to make a conscious effort to improve that in the evening session. Tonight I was really happy with things in the first 50m or so but trying to improve my stroke rate didn’t really pay-off. I think I may have being missing my stroke a bit tonight in that last 25m and I just didn’t finish as well as I needed to. The time of 53.1 was still up there with my best ever 100m fly swims so I can’t be too disappointed and I’m really looking forward to swimming with the other guys in the relay. Thanks for all the support…..James
Monday 16th / Tuesday 17th August
Well what can I say? We’ve had a few disappointments in the pool in the early part of the week with some things not quite going to plan. However, last night’s swim in the 200 fly semi by Stephen Parry showed real character and put a different complexion on things and we knew then that he had a real medal chance. Tonight, Stephen showed the rest of us the way to go. He did EXACTLY what we’ve been talking about for four years – he came to the Olympic pool and swam his best time ever. Not almost his best. His best ! If you can do that then you have every chance. It’s a fact that only 20% of swimmers do their best times at the Olympics because of the pressure etc. If there are eight swimmers in a final and you are in that 20% then you are guaranteed to be in the top two. Unfortunately, some of the team have left their best times in Sheffield and some of those times would have been good enough to win Gold here this week and that’s a hard pill to swallow. Personally, I would like to congratulate Steve and I am absolutely delighted for him. He and I battled it out many, many times over the past few years and I’d like to think we have raised each other’s game. Well done, mate ! Let’s hope the rest of us can learn from you and bring our best game with us to the pool over the next few days and in the meantime I think James Gibson will be making a few quid renting out ‘Rocky III’ ! For me now, the focus is very much on Thursday. I’m feeling relaxed and I know my game plan. Tomorrow will be about mental preparation and just staying relaxed but the highlight of the day will undoubtedly be shaving down ! Other than that it will be an early night and maybe a DVD. “Gibbo where’s that ‘Rocky III’ DVD …..?”
Saturday 14th / Sunday 15th August
Let the Games begin ! Finally, after all the hype, the good publicity, the bad publicity, the competition has finally started at the Athens Olympics and anyone who said that the Greeks wouldn’t be able to do this was wrong ! Things in the pool have already started to “hot up” with Phelps starting his assault on EIGHT gold medals by breaking the world record in the 400 Medley to take gold number one. Unfortunately, there was a mix up with the buses from the Olympic Village and when I got there the race was over ! You might not know this but I spent two weeks training with Michael in Baltimore in 2002 and I actually lived with Michael and his mum. It’s obvious that he learned so much from me !!!! The British campaign has started too and the mood in the camp is optimistic and some of the guys (and that includes the girls) are looking in great shape. Picking up silver in the diving has also helped the general mood in the British team and hopefully will inspire the rest of us. I’m counting the days until Thursday when I swim my heats. I’ve been drawn in Heat 7 Lane 2 with Phelps, Huegill and Rupprath – not a bad little line up. It’s not the greatest lane but those guys won’t be hanging around so at least I know my heat will be fast ! Someone asked me about the outdoor pool and what happens if it rains? Well it’s simple – we get wet (or wetter !!) but the weather here is so hot and sunny I can’t see rain being a problem. It’s about 35 degrees here which is very hot but it doesn’t seem as humid as the training camp in Cyprus so I feel equipped to deal with the conditions. Although, with these high temperatures it does mean that competitors, myself included, have to make an effort to stay out of the sun as much as possible in the build up to our respective events. Other than that not much to report other than I’ve had a haircut (if you can call it a haircut) at the salon (if you can call it a salon) in the Olympic Village. Anyway, I hope you are enjoying the diary and let’s hope the next time I write I will be telling you about Team GB’s first swimming medals. Later…….JH
Friday 13th August
Today’s highlight was getting the laundry done ! Seriously though, things are starting to get busy in the Olympic Village and all of the athletes appear to be here now. Well, all apart from a couple of Greeks who appear to have disappeared and somehow ended up in hospital. But I am not going to get into that particular debate. Let’s hope the Opening Ceremony which looked pretty spectacular gives the world’s media an opportunity to write some positive things about the Games and concentrate on the reason we are all here ! For me now, the most important thing is to stay relaxed and that gets a little more difficult as each day passes and we get nearer to competition. I don’t compete until Thursday so its a question of trying to strike a balance between staying focused without getting excited. It doesn’t take a huge effort as I have a lot of experience at this now, with this being my third Olympics but I’ve still made a point of keeping myself busy. Yesterday, I watched a DVD – “The Day After Tomorrow” with my room mate Chris Cook which helped pass the time, although I doubt it will win any Oscars ! On the subject of awards, my room mate “Cookie” has just been voted one of the best looking blokes on the British Team (or was it one of the ugliest?) although the rumour is that his mum did most of the voting ! Oddly, though, he keeps mysteriously finding condoms in his bags. Yesterday, some fell out of his washbag in front of a group of girls from the Danish team which they thought was extremely funny and poor Cookie went bright red ! Well, we thought it was funny, mate ! Apparently, the Daily Star reckons that 30,000 condoms are being used every DAY in the Olympic Village. Personally, I think Cookie has most of them !! Other than that I’ve just been doing some reading and listening to some music as well as some training in the Olympic Pool which, I must say, is really nice and being outdoors has a unique atmosphere. I’m looking forward to seeing what it will be like with 10,000 people in the stands ! Cheers for now……JH
Wed 11th August
I arrived in Athens yesterday after a week or so at the British Training Camp in Cyprus where it had been extremely hot. I’m pleased to say it’s a little cooler here in Athens, at least today. Despite everything you may have heard over the past few months Athens seems to be ready and everything seems to be built – well everything that matters to the Athletes at least i.e. the facilities. Some of the landscaping and roads around the city may not be finished but as far as being able to compete is concerned then everything looks good. I’ve been in the pool and it’s really good, although I imagine it’s going to get pretty hot without a roof ! The Olympic Village is quite nice too although there have been a few teething problems with transport which I’m sure the organisers will sort out over the next few days. To be honest, this feels more like the Manchester Commonwealth Games than an Olympics. I suppose that makes sense in a way as the IOC felt that Olympic Games on the scale of Sydney were just too big and too expensive to be viable for less wealthy countries like Greece so Athens certainly has a smaller feel to it compared to Sydney. Security is pretty tight too which is actually quite comforting and we have been told to relax and not to worry as London is on a higher state of alert than we are here in Athens so it’s important to keep things in perspective. Again, there have been a few teething problems on the security front but I’m confident these will be sorted out. For me now it’s all about building myself up mentally. All the physical work is done and although I will be doing some light training there is nothing more I can do to improve my physical fitness. Despite being the oldest and most experienced member of the GB swimming team, I am actaully learning from the younger athletes that the best way to approach this is to treat it just like any other swimming competition which, after all, is exactly what it is ! It’s all too easy to get over-awed by the importance of the Olympic stage so I’m going to try to take a leaf out of their book ! More from me in a day or two…….JH