One of the few success stories in the pool during the London 2012 Olympics, scooping Silver in the Men’s 200 Breaststroke, Michael Jamieson has arguably an even bigger summer of swimming ahead of him.
As ambassador of Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games, just a few miles from his birthplace, the games represents his biggest opportunity yet to become Scotland’s – and Britain’s – answer to Michael Phelps. We caught up with him promoting British Gas’ Swim Britain initiative at the Mountbatten Leisure Centre in Portsmouth.
Goggleblog: So tell us about Swim Britain? What is it?
Michael Jamieson: It’s an event for people with all sorts of swimming backgrounds and abilities. I did the event at Bristol last year and there were so many different types of swimmer there ranging from kids who were just in learn to swim programs through to adults who hadn’t been in the water for years, but had seen an advert for Swim Britain and thought it would be a good way to spend some time with some family or friends. The great thing is they then got back into the sport. Swimming is a life skill and I think it is vitally important that kids are introduced to the sport from a very young age.
GB: Which is your favourite pool?
MJ: My favourite has to be the Aquatics Centre in London. Obviously it holds great memories from 2012. And of course Tollcross in Glasgow. It doesn’t get much closer. I swam there for a number of years from my early teens onwards. There’s a huge opportunity for me this summer. I’m in a really privileged position. It’s great to have my qualification time done and dusted a few weeks ago and now I can just focus on making the improvements I need before the games themselves this summer.
GB: Will is it be weird racing against your English team mate Andrew Willis in this year’s Commonwealth Games?
MJ: The 200m Breaststroke event is the best chance for both us. But things are a bit different this year. It’s worked well over the last few years as we both train at the national centre down in Bath. We’re obviously really good friends away from the pool and in the pool I’d love him to swim well, just not as well as me! There’s also Christian Sprenger from Australia who has posted the second fastest time in the world this year.
MJ: I don’t know what it is. It’s always been a strong point. Especially in the last five to 10 years. There’s no other nation in the world matching us for strength and depth.
I think there are now five guys in the UK who can swim 2 minutes 10 seconds or faster on a 200 breaststroke which is the time I did to win silver in the last Commonwealth Games in Delhi so it just shows how things have moved on.
GB: I read that you could have made it as a footballer, is that right?
MJ: I don’t know – that’s being very generous. I was a really active kid. I took part in a number of sports at school and it just so happened that swimming was going well at the time and I just decided to pursue that. I knew I wanted to be a professional athlete.
At the time swimming seemed like the best choice. I was actually quite young when I focused on swimming – about 12, just in time for moving to high school. That made the decision easy for me because I was attending a sports school so instead of spending extra curricular time studying I was spending extra time swimming. I always knew I wanted to be involved in sport.
GB: How much training will you need to do ahead of the Commonwealth Games?
MJ: Over the next nine or 10 weeks it will be about 30 hours plus a week, about 22 hours in the pool and around 10 hours in a gym. It’s a real full time commitment. But I love the lifestyle. I’m used to it now. I’ve been doing it for over a decade. Now with my coach in Bath and all the support there I’ve got a system that works. This is the most important training block in my career now over the next two or three months.
GB: Were you surprised by the level of interest shown in you after London 2012?
MJ: Getting the medal at London 2012 completely changed my life. It gave me an opportunity to be an ambassador for brands like British Gas and for Glasgow 2014. I’m in a hugely privileged position. On days like today I feel a huge responsibility to promote events like Swim Britain and do my job as an ambassador as well as an athlete.
GB: What do you think of Michael Phelps’ comeback? Do you think you would ever do that?
MJ: The timing is a little bit different for me. I think Michael is still young enough to come back but after Rio I think I’ll be a little bit too old. But I’m not surprised at his return. Swimming has been part of his life for so long and he’s obviously a very high profile athlete. I think since he’s finished all he’s been doing are sponsored days and charity events and things like that. I don’t see how that can fulfil someone emotionally who has been at the top of the sport for so long so I can completely understand his decision.
In general he has done so much for the sport of swimming and it’s a great thing for the interest in swimming that he’s back. I know a few of his team mates really well over in Baltimore and they say he has been doing some pretty impressive stuff over the last six months in training.
What do you think the British Swimmers chances are like in Rio 2016?
MJ: Since Beijing there’s been a steady improvement in British Swimming in terms of strength and depth. I think what we need to do now is to get more swimmers producing world class times and taking another step up.
We have a huge number of guys and girls in their late teens who are producing some really fast swims and we need to make sure they are helped along the way as much as possible.
For example if you look at men’s breaststroke in the UK it’s becoming so difficult to do both events, both the 100m and 200m, because the standard is so strong. People are only really training specifically for one event which shows how much we have come on.
GB: So why did swimmers perform so poorly in the last Olympics? Is it because the trials for the games were too early
MJ: I think questions about the timing of the trials are obviously natural to ask after a disappointing result but that was a system that all the swimmers were used to for a number of years beforehand. I just think swimmers struggled emotionally. Some athletes thrive under that kind of pressure – that great atmosphere, having a huge number of spectators there. And some athletes just struggle to deal with that.
On a personal level it was the meet of a lifetime for me and I absolutely loved that situation and that environment. The more pressure, the more I feel i can get out myself and the more I can enjoy it. We need to get more British swimmers swimming at that high level internationally throughout the year to get used to racing world class opposition with a little bit of pressure.
GB: Finally, can we expect to see you on TV more after The Commonwealth Games, like your fantastic performance in Celebrity Superstars after London 2012?
MJ: I have nothing in the pipeline. But Superstars was right up my street. It was absolutely perfect for me. It’s one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done. Hopefully if I can get the results I am looking for in the summer maybe something else like that will come up!
Michael Jamieson is the British Gas Ambassador at the Swim Britain event in Bristol on September 14. For more information go to the Swim Britain website (www.swimbritain.co.uk). The Commonwealth Games starts on July 23rd.