The 1982 Commonwealth Games pool was “state of the art” in those days. The building was new and modern, yet very functional. It was something special to see from a distance, however stepping inside the building magnified the importance of the event. A big competition changes a pool, creating an “official” feeling with heightened efficiency, rules and seriousness. In spite of the new facilities and technology, the part of the building I remember most was the exit from the men’s changing room that led to the pool deck. In this area were the standard, normal type of mirrors on the wall above the hand wash basins. I remember those mirrors well.
Going into the 1982 Commonwealth Games, I was favourite to win the 200m Butterfly, which was one of the first events of the competition. I had the fastest time, held the record and had the right sort of experience. Only those close to me knew that I was definitely not in good form. The timing of the games was very different, as they were held well after the northern hemisphere summer and at the beginning of the university semester. Usually September was a rest time for swimmers when we tried to focus on other parts of our lives. As a result, I had concentrated on my education and not on my swimming readiness. I was far from being in peak form and it worried me considerably.
In the heats of the 200m Butterfly I worked really hard. It was a maximum effort. I was known for coming back fast, but that just did not happen. Any endurance had left me in July and August. I qualified 6th, which made me confused on how to approach that evenings final. After the heat swim down, I despondently walked into the empty changing room and past the mirrors. For some reason (I guess we all do it), I looked into those mirrors.
I walked up close and looked at myself. That’s how it started. The person in the mirror gave me a good talking to. He started with an appraisal of my effort in the heats. He called it a lousy performance, well below my potential. He explained that I had built the current situation and only I could fix it. He slowly built me up in preparation for the final, just as my father had done in my early teens. During that long and deep conversation, we decided on a tactic for the final which was very different from my usual plan.
Later in the day, I warmed up for the final. I still felt pretty awful, but how I felt had little to do with the job to be done. That evening, I spoke to the mirror a few more times. We decided to go out fast and hold on, which was definitely not my typical race plan. To cut the story short, it was an ugly race, but I won. Even today, the guy in the mirror helps me. He looks a little bit different, but he still has a few good points every now and then.
Incidentally, I carried the flag for England at the opening ceremonies of the Games the day before my 200m Fly. I believe I was the first swimmer to do so.
Today I live round the corner from that pool, only about 90 minutes drive away on the Sunshine Coast, and I still swim a few times a week. My favourite sessions are off the beach in Noosa on Wednesdays at 5:30am during the warmer months. There are about 100 of us there and this morning the dolphins joined us.