The Olympics is a big occasion; there's no doubt about it, and it's engrained in the core of Australian tradition. For a country of 22 million, we certainly punch above our weight when it comes to world sport. As Aussies we love competition, we love the Olympics and we love to see our flag flown just that little bit higher than the rest. As a swimmer, the Olympic Games are the pinnacle. While we enjoy a lot of support during World Championships and Commonwealth Games, the Olympics is the one event every four years when it feels like the whole country stops to watch.
For me, in 2008, standing on the blocks at the Olympic Games with the Australian coat of arms on my chest, really felt like I was standing alongside 22 million Aussies willing me to victory. However, along with that incredible support comes a great amount of pressure.
The Games are creeping up fast and before I know it I will be standing on the start blocks for the blue-ribbon 100m Freestyle; an event with a rich Australian history. Names such as Dawn Fraser, Shane Gould, Susie O'Neil, Jodie Henry and Libby Trickett have all made their mark in this event at various international competitions over the years. At the Olympic Games, Dawn is the most notable winning the event at three consecutive Olympics, while more recently Jodie Henry brought home the gold for Australia in Athens 2004. It would be easy to be overawed by this proud history, particularly as I looked up to all of these remarkable swimmers as I made my own way up the swimming ranks. Instead, I am left inspired. To have my name listed in the same sentence as these swimmers is both exciting and humbling.
Dawn Fraser and Jodie Henry
Pressure is something that everyone perceives differently. For some it is the one crippling factor that stops them performing at their best; for others, it is the perfect motivator to achieve results beyond expectations. Either way, pressure exists and successful athletes are the ones who can learn to deal with it and use it to their advantage.
Pressure can be seen everywhere if you walk in the shoes of an Olympic athlete. The London Olympics is everywhere I look; On the TV and radio, in magazines and newspapers, on twitter and facebook, in my living room and even in my dreams! Along with it all, comes the pressure and expectation of a nation…A country full of Aussies that I don't want to disappoint. While this environment provides a perfect backdrop for athletes to crumble, I have no intentions of allowing myself to be intimidated by the occasion that is the Olympic Games.
My approach to racing has changed vastly since I first gave up swimming in 2010. In the past, the weight of my own expectations led me to extreme levels of anxiety that often made me feel sick to the stomach. This is hardly the ideal physical state to be in prior to a race. I now find myself much more relaxed and confident when I approach competition. I am an extremely logical person and I believe a race is won and lost in the training pool. A good preparation leads to fast swimming and if I can leave no stone unturned in the training pool and raise the expectations I have of myself each and every repetition of a session, then I know I can swim faster when it comes to race day. With this focus, I have missed only four training sessions in the past year and produced some training results that exceeded even my own exceptionally high expectations. This is where confidence is born.
London Olympic pool during a test event
We are now in our last phase of hard work before we start to taper and fine tune our bodies in preparation for racing. I train with the intention of making every session better than the last to maximise my chances of swimming fast in London. When the time comes to stand behind the blocks for any of my races at the Olympic Games, I will be relaxed and confident from the training I have done. While pressure will certainly still exist, I will only allow it to be a motivator. After all, some of the best things in life are created under extreme pressure…No pressure, No diamonds.