Gold medal winner from the last Commonwealth Games in Delhi 2010, Hannah Miley is one of Scotland’s brightest hopes for this year’s games in Glasgow. She’s just hoping she doesn’t knock herself unconscious like she did in the athletes’ village four years ago!
GB: We’ve heard some tales of the conditions in Delhi from the last Commonwealth Games. Was it really that bad?
HM: The facilities could have been worse. But compared to what we are used to they were terrible. We had a roof over our heads, and we had beds which is a lot more than some of the locals had. Some of them were sleeping under corrugated iron. It made you appreciate what you had.
But it was hilarious because there were so many things that happened over there. Sometimes the bus drivers didn’t actually know where they were going and the bus that left after you would arrive before yours. You would walk into your apartment, try and close the curtain and then the whole curtain rail would fall on top of you. And the toilet would only flush every 12 hours too!
Didn’t you knock yourself out before the competition?
The bath had rusty nails protruding through it so you couldn’t have a bath and the shower was built on a slope with a plug at the top of the slope so you flooded the bathroom every time you had a shower. So that’s when I decided to wash my hair in in the bath. But I managed to crack my head on the bath and knock myself out before the racing even started. The next day was the 200 Individual Medley. It’s fair to say the race didn’t go quite according to plan!
How much training are you doing in the run up to this Commonwealth Games?
It varies between 36 and 42 hours a week. I have 11 sessions in the pool each week and then the other times I’m doing gym work, mobility work and land prep.
You have just started training in a long course (50m) pool haven’t you?
Yes I am training at the new Aberdeen pool. It’s so nice to have long course training now as a regular part of my training schedule – I’ve always had to trek down to Stirling, Glasgow or Edinburgh in the past. Now I’ve got it on my doorstep which is great.
Will it make much difference to your training?
It’s not like it’s going to be a massive difference, that I”m going to drop a huge chunk in time. The older you get, the harder it is to do that. But it means that my training is going to be more appropriate for the event. Trying to train short course for a long course competition is really hard. I’m not the biggest athlete either (just 5ft 5inches tall) and I do swim better long course than I do short course because of my height. I get taken advantage of in terms of starts and turns by other athletes especially in a short course pool.
Rather unusually you are coached by your Dad aren’t you? You must get on really well!
I’ve always been a bit weird, a bit quirky. Just that little bit different. I never wanted to follow the crowd or blend in. And that’s kind of come out in my swimming. My Dad was the first person to throw me in the pool. He’s always been fascinated by swimming. It’s always been his hobby. He swam when he was a little boy, swam when he was in the army. He’s done triathlons as well. Then he was asked to coach at our local swimming club so he’s always been involved in swimming – it’s been a huge part of his life. He loved taking me into the pool when I was a baby. It wasn’t until I was three that he taught me to swim and I joined my local swimming club (Garioch) at the age of 5 where I still train.
Has he been coaching you all this time?
No it wasn’t until the European Juniors when I was 15 that he started to be a lot more involved in my swimming because he had other swimmers that he was coaching. I’ve not really known it any other way. For me I’ve just got a huge amount of respect for him. He knows what he’s talking about so I can’t really argue with him. He has developed a device called an Aquapacer (like a metronome in music) which has been used by medal winning Olympians so I know he knows what he’s talking about. The relationship with my Dad works because he’s able to give me challenges which prove that I am tough, that I can do what he asks.
Did you do other sport when you were growing up?
I did highland dancing, tap, ballet, horse riding and athletics. It wasn’t just swimming all the time because my interests were in other things. But the first one to go was highland dancing because I was terrified that my feet would get chopped off because you use real swords!
As I got older I just found out that I was more co-ordinated in water than I was on land. It wasn’t until I was about 16 after the Melbourne Commonwealth Games that I decided this is what I wanted to do.
Both of my brothers are swimmers too. I think Dad wanted them to get into rugby or football, but trying to get them playing football or rugby in the middle of winter just didn’t work out. They are great training partners.
You must have had to sacrifice a lot to be as successful as you are in the pool?
I’ve had to give up a lot. Going to friends’ 16 birthdays and not being able to sleep over because I had training the following morning. Things like that.
Socially I felt I was missing out on a lot. Looking back on it now I didn’t miss out on anything. At the time it felt like the most important thing in the world. But my true friends all understand. You’ve got your swimming friends who stay with you for life. Then you’ve got your school friends for when you want to have a life outside the bubble of swimming.
How many races are you planning to do at the Commonwealth Games?
Potentially I could race five but whether I swim all five I don’t know. I need to see how the program goes and also if I’m selected for any of the relays as well because then that could add a couple more. I do tend to race a lot of other races because I think it all complements the 400 Individual Medley (IM) at the end of the day. It’s all a balancing act because of a couple of my competitors swim multiple events too. At least the 400IM is day one so I can enjoy the rest of the meet.
Who do you see as your biggest competitor in the Commonwealth Games?
Aimee Wilmott is my main competitor. She’s ranked number two in the world and number one in the Commonwealth. She has made huge progression in the 400IM and overtaken me this season. It means that I finally have someone to chase rather than being the one who is being chased.
What did you think of your performance in London 2012 where you finished 5th in the final of the 400IM?
Initially I was disappointed with London. To know that the time I posted at the trials would have actually got me a bronze medal in the Olympics is a hard pill to swallow.
But it’s actually been a real positive because it was an improvement on Beijing where I came sixth and actually went slower in the final. This time round it was the fastest heat swim I’d ever done and I went quicker in the final too. A lot of the public want you to come back with the hardware. But I’m someone who looks at things in a realistic way. It’s not the end of the world.
Do you think the timing of the national trials so long before the Olympic Games was a large factor in the disappointing performances of a lot of swimmers at London 2012?
Well I think it’s just that sometimes you feel more comfortable with your competitors. Going into London 2012 was tough because I had to travel from Aberdeen to London where we had to go and drop our bags off and then up to the holding camp in Edinburgh and then to London. This was all days before we were racing. There was a lot of travel involved which had a huge impact on our performance – travelling can take a lot out of you.
London 2012 was a positive experience, it just wasn’t the result everyone was expecting me to get. But it was the best possible swim I could have put out at the time.
Finally, tell us about Swim Britain
It’s about encouraging people to take part in swimming. It’s a healthy activity that allows people to be fit and active and is a great social event as well. It’s for all abilities and all ages and is a great day out. I took part in it last year in Edinburgh, I had three young kids who won a competition to be part of my team and I had so much fun. There are also training sessions held before for people who want to improve their stroke and techniques. Some people go just to be competitive and post the fastest 250m time while others literally go for the sheer fun of it all!
Hannah Miley is taking part in British Gas SwimBritain – a campaign to create a healthier nation and get more people swimming more regularly. You can join her on September 28th at Glasgow’s Tollcross International Swimming Centre. To find out more about venues and register your interest, go to swimbritain.co.uk