Back in my Sports School days the swimmers were always the first to be up. Long after our swimming training had commenced, we would start seeing student athletes from other sports walking to their respective training areas. I used to be really envious of the other student athletes but I kind of figured that the demands are really great in swimming. You might be thinking, why do we train so hard? When it comes to a race, swimming the ‘perfect race’ isn’t actually quite enough. We have got to have the ‘perfect race’ 2-3 times if we want to even get close to winning. Why is this so? In swimming, we have heats, semi-finals and finals. In most cases we only have heats and finals in one day, which means we have to have 2 perfect races a single day in order to get the Gold medal. So you touched 1st place in the heats with a solid race, you might feel really accomplished about your race. But in reality, what you only accomplished is being a finalist. During the finals, whatever times you did in your heats does not count, everything starts from ground zero again, a guy that qualified 8th place gets equal chance of getting the Gold medal in the finals. So in order to have enough stamina to go hard for heats and finals in a single day, we have to train extra hard to match up to our competitors.
Qualifying for the finals makes a swimmer really excited because you are amongst the 8 fastest swimmers which will get to swim again in the finals! Everyone would be watching you race so the pressure is definitely higher. Due to the heats and finals being on the same day, swimmers must learn to stay calm right after the heats to get the appropriate recovery they need to race again in the finals, and trust me it is not an easy task to remain calm knowing that you have a final race later in the evening. I remember back when I just got into my first final in an open age swim meet I got so excited that I could not sleep before the race. My heart was racing so much and I just could not calm myself down enough to sleep. “I’M FINALLY TOP 8 FASTEST IN SINGAPORE!!!’ I just could not believe it. I ended up not sleeping at all and raced in the finals. What was the verdict of my final swim? It was the biggest regret of my life. I was so tired at the start of the race that I could not perform during the finals. The adrenaline rush came too early and that had caused me my race. But every race is a learning experience, and over the years I have learnt to keep myself calm and contained before the finals. Music helps a lot 🙂
Since winning the heats does not guarantee you a medal in the finals, swimmers analyze our races A LOT. Personally before every race I would sit down and strategize my race plan with Coach Gary and he would give me the best advice for my race. What makes a perfect heat swim is usually having a perfect race without spending too much energy during your heat swim. The key goal of a heat swim is to get into the top 8. However, it can be really tricky as well. Yes I agree that top 8 swimmers advance to the finals, but do you really want to be 8th place? Not for pride’s sake, but qualifying 8th place in a race means you would be in lane 8 for the finals, which is a corner lane. The downside to a corner lane is that you may not know what is going on in the middle of the pool (Lanes 3, 4, 5, 6) which are the top 4 qualifiers. Unless you are confident of your own race plan, I would not recommend qualifying 8th place in a race, it can go really wrong. So it is all about analyzing your competitors, and planning a specific race plan to allow you to use the least amount of energy and still be able to qualify for the finals in a good lane. Ultimately it is all about winning your competitors for the finals, heats do not matter. For me I find that qualifying top 4 for the finals would be best because you would be able to see your competitors when you race during the finals. That really motivates me to swim faster as I hate to lose so I will try to win my competitors to the best of my ability.
There is a constant battle between swimmers and their 4:50am alarm clock. Waking up is only the first step to winning the battle with the bed. Jumping in the ice cold pool in at 5:30am is also another thing swimmers dread most. But if it is so tough, why do we still wake up to train every morning? That is because if we do not get up, others will be busy training their hearts out while you snooze. “You snooze, you lose” it is that simple. We do 6-7km of high intensity swimming per training session so if we do skip a session we would be missing out on a lot. To me that is a strong motivator to get up that early in the morning because if I hit the snooze button, I am already a step behind my competitors as they would not be hitting the snooze button for sure. I am sure that many of the national swimmers in Singapore have this mentality as well, that is why swimming times in Singapore are getting faster and faster each year.
Literally every part of our body is engaged during swimming, which makes it so hard. After each week of training my entire body will be so sore that I feel like lazing my whole weekend away on the bed. Yes, trust me, it is that bad, but we are already used to it.
If I had a great party which I really want to attend, or a game that I really want to play, the first question would be, “Will it end by 10pm? I have to get up for morning training tomorrow.” My friends outside swimming would laugh at me most of the time at the amount I sleep. They cannot believe that someone so old can actually sleep so much. But yes, I do sleep a lot because that is the only way I can recover from my hectic training schedule. So most of the time if an outing or game has a potential of passing 10pm, I would say no to it as it would affect my training the following morning. I do miss out on quite a bit of fun, but this is the price you would have to pay if you want to be the best athlete you can be. But do take note that life is all about balance, when it is time to enjoy, just enjoy life. I enjoy my life after every major competition so there is a balance to my life. (E.g. having late nights after a major competition like SEA Games or Asian Games)
So this pretty much sums up a life of a national swimmer. Though we make many sacrifices, I personally enjoy this lifestyle as swimming is my passion, and there are goals that I hope to achieve in this sport, and whether I achieve my goals or not, these sacrifices have shaped me to a more disciplined individual in general so I have no regrets. 🙂 People outside of swimming may not know the amount of sacrifice we go through to get the results we want, so hope this story would give you a clearer idea of a swimmers work ethic!
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