where Scottish Gas SwimBritain will take place in September
For several years now, the small Stirlingshire town of Dunblane has become associated with Andy Murray. When he finally won his Grand Slam at Wimbledon this year, the television cameras were in the community hall where the townsfolk had gathered to watch the match and then bask in the vicarious glory. But there are other Scottish sports stars – and their home towns – which ought to be equally celebrated.
Hannah Miley is one of Scotland’s swimming heroes. She’s the current reigning European 400m individual medley champion. She lives at home with her parents in the Aberdeenshire village of Inverurie where she trains in the local pool — a member of the Garioch Amateur Swimming Club — a small four-lane 25 metre pool, a far cry from the massive Olympic pools in which she’s achieved her success.
She represented Scotland at the last Commonwealth games in India three years ago, winning a gold medal in the process. She’s also been a member of the Great Britain team at the Summer Olympics in Beijing and London – in the latter, she came fifth.
This 23-year-old swimmer deserves to have the same support and following as Andy Murray – but swimming does not attract the same large audiences or indeed the interest from broadcasters which tennis has done for decades. And yet it is a popular participation sport. So when Miley flies out to Barcelona next week to join almost 30 other swimmers in the Great Britain team to take part in the World Championships which start on 28 July, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to follow her every move, certainly on terrestrial television.
Coached by her father Patrick, Miley credits him with having helped her to her current position. She told me, “my dad was the first person to push me in the pool! Definitely without him, I would not be where I am today.” And she insists that an invention of his – a tool called the “Aquapacer” – was vital in her training.
“It’s a device a bit like a metronome,” she explained. “You wear it under your swimming had and it provides a pulse you can match your stroke to. It allows you to develop a consistent pace and, when training for a competition, you can increase the stroke rate to build up a greater speed. Sadly,” she added, “it’s no longer in production. But it has been used in the training of several British swimmers.”
She’s looking forward to taking part in the World Championships though she described it as “an opportunity to see how well the training has gone. You get the chance to see the competition from the rest of the world, in the same way as the European Championships let you test yourself against other European swimmers and the Commonwealth Games lets you meet those swimmers as well.”
Unlike last year’s Olympics where she was in the pool from day one, she won’t be taking part in a race in Barcelona until the final day of the competition. “It means be doing a lot of cheering for the rest of the team,” she laughed. “But it’s no different from what I did in Shanghai (at the last World Championships). I’ll be there in the final day and my aim is making the final and taking it from there.”
She says she’s really looking forward to next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. “It’s really exciting,” she said, “and it’s amazing to have had two major home events so soon one after the other. I hope that Scotland can get behind me next year in the way the London crowd did at the Olympics. Certainly I hope to do Scotland proud.”
Looking back at last year’s Olympics, she remembers how important location was to the excitement generated. As she put it, “in London, it was really in your face. But when you compare that with Scotland, up period was very quiet. So the closer you are to the venue, the greater the excitement and that makes it all the more important to build the support network around you.”
She acknowledged that at the age of 23 many swimmers have passed their peak. But she insisted “I have quite a bit of swimming left in me.” She described herself as lucky that she still living at home and therefore doesn’t have the responsibilities of having a house or flat to look after and all the other personal issues which can affect performance. As she said “age is just a number and I still enjoy my swimming. So if I can defend my title in Glasgow, that would be a huge benefit.”
She also is determined to do her bit to raise the profile of swimming not just in Scotland but throughout the UK. So at the end of September, she’ll be taking an active part in the Scottish Gas SwimBritain event at the Royal Commonwealth Pool. This is one in a series of 2000m or 4000m team relay events taking place around the country. The idea is for people to gather together in small teams to take part – perhaps as a family. (Family teams need to have at least one adult and up to 3 children aged between eight and 15.)
“I’ll be there,” said Hannah, “just to help people get involved in swimming. Scotland has supported me through my career sunk in to give something back. In particular want to encourage the younger generation to look at other sports in football or rugby. And it’s very easy to get involved. All you need to do is go to the website and sign up.”