SWIMMING: THE ATHLETIC MATHS PUZZLE
Trying to improve has always been my biggest motivator… getting fitter, faster, improving my technique, shaving seconds off my race time… That’s what I love most about swimming: it’s a very quantifiable game. Like most other sports, it’s nothing to do with statistics but rather, at the end of the year: do you swim faster than you did last year? Yes or no. The next most important thing is to determine why; then you can begin solving the next piece of the puzzle: how to improve your speed for the next year. As I grow older, this becomes more challenging. My body responds differently to training than it did when I was younger so I constantly need to adapt my diet and training programme, and ensure that I remain focused and able to assess myself objectively.
‘Swimming is like a puzzle to me - a simultaneously mental and physical game - that keeps my mind active and constantly interested.’
THE IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION
‘We’ve noticed that many of the athletes have attended university and are very driven in other areas of their lives besides sport. Their brains seem to work in a different way to normal people. I.e. they love variety, learning and pushing themselves, and it’s that balance that helps them to remain focused on their sport and, importantly, liking it. They do it because they want to, not because they have to, which in todays ‘quick win’ fame-obsessed society is a great example to set.’
I agree. I’m not sure which comes first: the chicken or the egg but I certainly value my education. I studied at Berkeley, University of California and trying to juggle intense training sessions with exams, lectures and races was difficult. There were certainly times when I wished I could’ve just swum but, ultimately, my education was so important. Not only has it enabled me to intelligently converse on a wide variety of subjects (even if I’m not necessarily familiar with them!) but it’s also helped me to analyse my own training objectively.
‘Education gave me a lens through which I can look into and critically try to analyse, within reason and expectations, what’s happening; to think outside of the box and come up with solutions.’
DIET OF AN OLYMPIC CHAMPION: PEANUT BUTTER & JELLY SANDWICHES
Just before I competed at the London 2012 Olympics, it was so windy. I was about to grab lunch in the Olympic Village before racing but, by the time I arrived at the dining hall, they’d decided to close it because the winds were so strong. The canteen was in a temporary marque but the steel structure looked very strong. It would never have collapsed but, with the intense winds, the canvas was vigorously flapping around so they were worried it might peel off the tent completely or injure someone. I literally lived off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that day but it can’t have been too bad because I won 2 gold medals and a silver haha.
FAVOURITE PLACES TO SWIM
1. SINGAPORE is incredible, super modern with the most luxurious hotels. I stayed at the Marina Bay Sands hotel, which has an awesome rooftop pool. I spent a lot of time hanging out there but everything about Singapore fascinates me: the culture, the food, the history… The way that they were able to essentially separate themselves from the rest of the world to successfully create this incredibly powerful financial hub from nothing is amazing.
2. ROME. A really fun place to visit. The atmosphere is relaxed and happy so you always have a good time there. Whilst visiting for a swim meet, we also spent time exploring the city, visiting the Vatican, castles, shopping and enjoying all the delicious food Rome has to offer.
3. BARCELONA. A really fun, vibrant city, with lots of places to relax. I always have a great time there, especially sitting outside on the beachfront, relaxing and having a lazy dinner with friends – the ones that last 3 hours, when you’re having a beer, eating, hanging out and just having fun.
4. COLORADO SPRINGS. I’m currently training here with Michael Phelps coach, Bob Bowman. He’s a lot of fun and it’s an amazing opportunity for me to see how he trains his athletes and the different ways they’ve been successful. (I’m not changing coaches because Dave [Durden] has done an incredible job with me – he probably knows my body and how it responds to training better than I know myself.)
‘I compete in sprint freestyle - the event that everyone wants to be good at - so it’s a fun challenge to constantly try to stay relevant in a super competitive game.’
THE SECRET TO BEING A STRONG, FAST SWIMMER
I don’t have any super-intense training secrets other than that I do a lot of weight training. I do at least 4 sessions weekly plus daily pool sessions and cross-training so more than most other swimmers. To become a stronger swimmer, the most important aspects to focus on are: athletic ability, endurance, shoulder and back strength and speed; then make small tweaks to fine tune them and shave time off your race. Other than that, just enjoy yourself because, ultimately, that’s what matters most.
‘Cheerleading, gymnastics… most forms of cross-training will help develop your overall athleticism and enhance your swimming capabilities. They’re a lot of fun too and, when done regularly, you’ll notice huge changes in your physique. I highly recommend them.’
ON WINNING MEDALS…
Winning my first gold medal at Beijing 2008 was really interesting because I wasn’t selected for the preliminary relay. Sitting there on the sidelines and watching everyone else race was a big defining moment for me.
What happens is… your score in the preliminary relay determines whether you qualify for the finals. The officials only select the four fastest Team USA athletes and I didn’t make it so I had to sit and watch the final heat go. Then, Jason Lezac ran down France's Alain Bernard in the 4x100m freestyle relay. That was enormously exciting for me and I came away from the experience with a gold medal. After that, I made a commitment to myself that I never wanted to be in that position ever again. I wanted to be in control of my own fate, to be there in the mix and to be able to compete for Team USA… to celebrate with the guys when we win or be a little bit disappointed if we lose.
TEAM USA & TEAM GB: SETTING THE BAR
It’s a really exciting time to be in Team USA. We’re all really young, driven and had a really amazing performance at the Rio 2016 Olympics so, for Tokyo 2020, we’re aiming to perform even better. Team GB had an amazing performance at Rio 2016 too. It just wasn’t necessarily reflected in the medals table because they got a lot of 4th places but they’re such a hungry team - you can just see it - so I’m certain that, in the next 4 years, they’re going to be climbing up that ultimate medal table. Bring on the games!
‘I have the same guilty pleasures as everyone else but I’ve always felt that willpower is a muscle. The more I exercise it, the stronger it becomes.’
ON DIET & WILLPOWER…
I’m the type of guy who’s all or nothing so I don’t choose one cheat day. Instead, I try to eliminate all of the ‘bad’ foods for as long as possible until I feel like I’m at a certain point in my training where it’s ok to relax my diet slightly. Then, I’ll enjoy several weeks eating pizza, frozen yoghurt, whatever I want before eating healthily again for the rest of the season.
FAVOURITE PRE-WORKOUT SNACK. I always eat something light before training, usually plain noodles with a little bit of olive oil and some Parmesan, topped with a plain grilled chicken breast.
FAVOURITE POST-WORKOUT SNACK. I love a good sandwich, especially a warm one with toasted bread and melted cheese. I have those everywhere I go.
MY ULTIMATE GUILTY PLASURE. Frozen yoghurt and pizza - but it has to be a special one. I live in San Francisco next to an amazing frozen yoghurt bar and deep-dish pizzeria. They put honey in the crust, which makes it sweet. You can’t stop yourself from eating all the crust. Normally I don’t eat the crust but this is the one pizza where I just eat it all.
BUILD MUSCLE, BOOST METABOLISM. Hot sauce is amazing. It’s so tasty and great for metabolism so, if you add hot sauce to your diet and walk as much as possible, it’s a small change but you’ll definitely see some benefits. I also eat lots of protein (both with meals and for snacks) to encourage better muscle growth and repair. As a swimmer, that’s vital because I love going on long hikes and playing golf for hours so I constantly need to re-fuel my body with protein because, when you train as much as I do, the greater your muscle mass, the faster your metabolism is and you end up losing too much weight. It’s a constant balance.