So, one day down and no medals in or out of the swimming pool for Team GB. No need to panic – we didn’t have any at this stage in Beijing either and finished fourth – but yesterday we had medal hopes that were dashed on the road and in the Aquatics Centre.
I was one of many who anticipated gold for Mark Cavendish in the cycling road race and watched in horror as it became apparent that the medal was not going to materialise. I turned my attention to the pool, and to Hannah Miley, as Team GB’s first medal chance in swimming.
It’s fair to say that things didn’t go to plan. Miley was 5th in a 400 IM that saw Ye Shiwen blow away the world record and, indeed, finish faster (over the last 50) than Ryan Lochte in the men’s equivalent.
Hannah is one of those swimmers that is exceptionally well drilled and prepared, not least mentally, and she always emphasises the need to focus on her own race, her own performance, and the things that she can control. However, as gracious as she was in her post-race interview one could see that the expectations where there, and that she was aware of them. As a breaststroker myself, I couldn’t help notice that her strong stroke didn’t look so strong – a little snatchier and less smooth than normal – and her split showed that she didn’t make up the ground that she normally might have. These are the subtle influences that the weight of expectation can exert, and the pressure that that it can create.
Compare that with David Carry. He didn’t qualify for the team at the first time of asking. Going into the heat no-one really expected him to make a final. But he wanted it, and he swam bravely and took his chance. In the final he was always going to be off the pace of the leaders but he acquitted himself well.
Of the other competitors, one need only mention Lochte and Phelps. Lochte carried expectations into his final, but also the supreme confidence of an athlete at his best. Phelps, well, again expectations were there, but perhaps not the confidence. I suspect that Phelps is better prepared for his shorter events this time around and sincerely hope that he bounces back.
I also hope that Team GB, from somewhere, pick up their first medal soon, so that home advantage and the expectations of the nation don’t become a monkey on their backs and turn into home disadvantage.