Interview: Mark Foster on LA Fitness/British Swimming partnership

Six-times world champion swimmer Mark Foster attends an event to highlight the 2012 Schools Games finals, at the 2012 Aquatics Centre, London. Image - Press Association

Private club LA Fitness has joined forces with Community Swimming (part of British Swimming) in an initiative to get more of us taking the plunge.

We caught up with former Olympic swimmer and Freestyle world champion Mark Foster to talk about his involvement in the scheme and also the upcoming London 2012 Olympics

Goggleblog – Can you tell us a little bit about the initiative here today?
Mark Foster –  The initiative is between British Swimming and the ASA and LA Fitness. The idea is basically to get 1 million more people swimming. LA Fitness has 80 fitness centres, 78 of them with pools. The idea is that you don’t have to be a member to use the pool. You can pay, I think, £6 to go in as a member of the public. The pools don’t tend to be used an awful lot during the day so this enables both members and non members to use the available facilities. People always say there aren’t enough facilities or I can’t find anywhere to swim in my area, but out there you’ve got pools that aren’t being used. My big thing is to get people learning to swim. Swimming is the one Olympic sport that I can think of that can literally save your life. I wish more clubs would open up their doors and give people the opportunity to swim.

So what was it like when you were growing up? Were there many pools around?
I was quite fortunate because I was from Southend on Sea and there was a pool which was about 5 miles away which isn’t close in London terms but was close in Southend terms. I also lived close to the sea. But I was lucky there was a pool where I could have lessons because if there wasn’t a pool I would never have learned to swim, and I would never have achieved what I have achieved. I might have become a footballer instead or done another sport completely.

Do you think the pools we have in this country are big enough, especially the ones we have in gyms which are only 15 or 20 metres long maximum?
I think they are long enough for most people. I’m not being funny but it takes me 24 strokes to swim an Olympic pool and it will take most people 30 strokes in a 15m pool. It’s not the size of the pools that’s important, it’s the number of pools. We need more gyms to open their pools and get people in there having a swim.

Finally, congratulations on officially opening the 2012 Aquatics Centre and winning your race against Tessa Sanderson! Are you looking forward to the games?
I’m really looking forward to them.  I think the exciting thing about it is that – especially with it being a home games – there’s an opportunity for ‘minority’ sports to shine, rather than sport coverage being all about football the whole time.  There are a lot more sports out there for people to get involved in.

LA Fitness and Community Swimming are offering kids’ swimming lessons with fully qualified ASA instructors at their fitness centres across the country. For more information go to www.lafitness.co.uk/swimming or phone  0844 369047.

You can see the YouTube video of Mark Foster talking to Goggleblog at the Community Swimming launch event at LA Fitness Marylebone below: