We are only 3 months into 2017 with trials for the major event of the year, the world championships in Budapest looming close on the horizon, but Aimee Willmott already has one eye trained further ahead to 2018 and the commonwealth Games to be held on the Gold coast in Australia. The London based swimmer, sponsored by Funkita, has been picked as one of the inaugural cohort of Team England athlete ambassadors and in that role, will be inputting to the preparation and planning for the trip down under next March.
There’s 20 or so athletes in all different sports that are coming together to make an athlete ambassador panel with the idea is that we can help promote the games through all social media platforms, kind of get a hype really towards the Gold Coast for people to get excited about it” explains Willmott. “Team England’s philosophy is that everyone in the games is having fun, not really setting significant medal targets, they’re just trying to make the experience the best possible for every athlete attending, and I think we can play a part in that.”
That takes on feeding in a swimmer’s eye view of making everything simple and maximising the chance of peak performance. “I think the travel aspect is a big deal for the swimmers and that’s something we’ll have a bit of an input with, whether it’s when we’re travelling or how we’re travelling; is it best to stop over and just even the kit that we travel in, is it comfortable to travel all the way over the other side of the world and it’s just nice to kind of have a bit of an input in the small things that people don’t think matter, but in an athlete’s world all of the small things obviously add up to point 1 of a second on this and maybe point 1 of a second on that.”
Willmott certainly has experience share in the context of the Commonwealths, with the gold coast being potentially her third appearance at that level, and two Olympics on her swimming CV to boot, but she’s looking forward to competing in Australia, where swimming is such a huge deal, qualification permitting of course. “If I can post good times this year, I think that sets me in good stead with qualifying and with it being in Australia, the home of swimming, and a village and the environment that Australia set up on the gold coast, looks and sounds incredible. So it would be really nice just to be part of an England team that gets to travel there.
That trip would repeat one from Willmott’s early career when she competed twice at the Queensland state championships as part of a touring British junior team, experiences that left their mark “ I swam there when I was 14 and then again at 15 – they put on a show and swimmers from the age of 11 get to experience such enormous events in these huge venues” she says, expecting a similar experience next year. “I’m pretty sure it will be electric, having such a dedicated crowd and I think the atmosphere will be incredible.”
That’s the long term aim then, to get a ticket to down under punched, but the small matter of the world championships looms first. The selection policy takes on its familiar tough look and trials will rekindle the rivalry Willmott has not only with Hannah Miley, but also a host of up and coming medley swimmers who might fancy their chances of upsetting the duopoly that the two senior swimmers have established in the 400IM since 2012. Not that Willmott is looking at it that way.
“I try not really to worry about what anyone else is doing; I’ve never really worried about what Hannah is doing if she’s in front of me, it’s more about making the times and getting my place on the team” she says. “And this year obviously with, there are a few younger ones coming through and I can’t really rest on my laurels, no one can. Obviously, I have to finish at least 2nd and I’ve still got to make the time and it will be as difficult as always.”
There are things to work on form last year though, with Rio not providing the podium finish that perhaps was an outside chance heading into the meet but she isn’t feeling down on her performance with the benefit of time to consider the outcome.
“On reflection I actually was really happy with my results, I would’ve obviously had liked to have come away with a medal but I think the medal time might have been just out of my reach. At this point in my career I haven’t been faster than 4:33 and win a medal I needed to swim a 2 second PB.”
I came back in the evening and thought I had it in me to go a little bit faster than the heat, but just couldn’t really replicate two of those fast swims in one day, and the final ended up being a tiny bit slower. Initially I think I was a bit disappointed with that, but when I look back at it they were my two fastest swims in one day. And I think if I had done them the other way around I’d been over the moon, but I couldn’t leave anything to chance in the morning It was close between me and Maya Dirado but being in the first seeded heat we couldn’t really leave anything to chance I kind of had to give it everything. And that was the seasons best for me, it’s the fastest I’d swam all year and I think being that time that I’d swam, I couldn’t really be too disappointed with it looking back.”
But with the benefit of hindsight come new targets and areas for improvement. “I’m really working on the 400 medley still and just try and iron out all those small things that I picked up in Rio that I need to improve on to kind of compete at world level in a world final.”
“I think for me it’s putting together the perfect race on paper; my turns have been fast at one competition, my last 100 fast at another competition and it’s just getting the whole race together at one time when it matters, rather than at the Olympics for instance, my swimming speed being the fastest it’s ever been, but my turns being a little bit off pace. I’ll be working on the smaller things this year rather than just trying to be physically fit because I don’t really think I can train any harder, it’s just more about training a little bit smarter and working on the tiny things to improve on”
Training is still the key thought, whether hard or smart and it’s something Willmott is enjoying, being as she is well settled into the routine in London and importantly, enjoying what she’s doing. “I’m just trying to enjoy swimming for what it is, and thinking that I’ve achieved so much, there’s so much more that I can achieve, but if I’m not enjoying the training then I’m probably not going to achieve anything. So for me, this year and this season is about making sure I’m enjoying it and having fun and I know that if those things are going right and I am loving turning up to training, then the results will hopefully follow.”