london2012

Hannah: Not so smiley

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Hannah: Not so smiley
Hannah: Not so smiley

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When your surname is Miley, it’s almost inevitable that you’re going to end up with the nickname “Smiley”. When your personality is naturally up beat and you really do seem to smile all the time then it’s a nickname that sticks. But there’s steel behind that smile in the case of Hannah Miley, Britain’s finest individual medley swimmer and one of a handful of genuine gold medal contenders in the pool. It was that steel, that fighting spirit, that photographer Simon Wright wanted to capture, giving rise to a Boudicca inspired shoot, with some glamorous underwater shots thrown in, that Miley was all too keen to be part of.

“I’ve always been known as “Smiley Miley” so to do something that’s a little bit edgy and a bit serious is a bit of fun” she explains “As a swimmer you’re always in goggles, caps and swimsuits, so I wanted to do something that was a little bit different. It just shows that I can be smiley and bubbly and happy but there’s a serious side to it.”

And does she possess that warrior spirit? She laughs. “Yes, the fighting Irish! We always try to be the last man standing!”

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“When it comes down to racing it’s the warrior side that comes out; you have a job to do and you’ve just got to get on with it, so hopefully it shows that I can be serious, and I can get down to work.”

Get down to work she most certainly did at Britain’s Olympic trials, posting a hugely impressive 4:32.67 400 IM, the second fastest ever swim in a textile suit. It’s a performance that has done nothing to dampen down the expectations that rest on the slight frame of the 5 foot 5” Scot, but it was surprise to her and her coach, father Patrick, that she had swum so fast.


“I was kind of hoping for a 4:34, or something around that” recalls Hannah “so to go a 32 was something I was really, really happy with – it was a lot quicker than I expected so we learnt a lot but there’s still a lot more to gain and improve on”

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Sitting overlooking the Olympic Aquatic Centre in the immediate aftermath of that dominant qualifying performance, Patrick is clear in his admiration for his daughter’s swim, but also in her fighting spirit, relishing the prospect of a head to head battle with World Champion Elisabeth Beisel come the Games.

“I’m totally comfortable that Hannah did everything right.” he says. “At the 300m point she was quicker than the girl who won the world championship last year [Beisel] and in a race situation I know that Hannah can go quicker, whether she needs to or has too in the summer is all about the race.” He concurs that there is work to do and admits to leaving no stone unturned to make sure Hannah arrives at the games in optimum condition. As Hannah often says: “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got” – something of a mantra in the Miley household.

That desire to cover every base has led to the addition of boxing training to her regime and experiments such as departing straight from trials to Amsterdam to compete again, in an attempt to learn as much as possible that can help the duo in their preparations. Whatever he does throw at Hannah, however, he’s confident she can take it. “I’m biased obviously, but I do not know a human being who is quite as committed” he explains, “and while Olympic year does that for everybody, she takes it to an extraordinary level”

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By way of illustration, Patrick recalls an occurrence from Hannah’s early swimming days. “When she was 12 or 11, I can remember going to a competition, and she’s never been tall or physically big in any way, and someone said, “Her skills are lovely, she’ll be a delightful swimmer”.

“But delightful doesn’t mean champion, and I can remember thinking, “She’s fine and she’s good in the water, but she’ll never be mentally tough enough”. And that’s possibly the most inaccurate thing I’ve ever said in my life, as it’s her mental toughness which is actually her biggest asset.”

That single mindedness helps Hannah to deal with the demands of training and the inevitable pressure that builds in Olympic year, but for all her protestations about looking to control those things that she can control, there is still the temptation to keep tabs on her rivals, particularly after her trials performance.


“It’s always good to be aware of your competitors” she admits, “to see if they’ve changed their race plan, and just get a rough idea of how they’re going through the season.”

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There were signs that Miley’s own 400IM race plan had taken a bit of adjustment back in March, as she posted opening butterfly and backstroke splits faster than those she recorded on her way to world silver in Shanghai last year. “I’ve worked hard on all four strokes, that’s what you have to do as a medley swimmer,” she explains, “I think it was a combination of that and a bit of adrenalin because of the occasion, but I didn’t really think about it I just did it. I just let what happened happen!”

And there’s that laugh again, the laugh of someone who loves what they do and who perhaps can’t believe the opportunity that looms in London on the first day of competition in the Olympic pool. With all major nations bar the USA having completed their Olympic trials, all of Miley’s main competitors have now posted their best times for the year and none has yet been able to surpass the time that won Hannah her Olympic selection. Not that sitting atop the world rankings gives any sense of security.

“Going into the games, the times that I’ve posted will just be a bit of ink on a bit of paper” she confirms matter-of-factly, “it’s what you do at the Games that counts so hopefully I can improve on that and do a bit better.” It would be no surprise if that “bit better” saw Hannah mounting the Olympic podium – so watch out world, there’s an IM warrior heading your way.

You can see more from the shoot, which also included fellow Olympians Ellie Faulkner, Aimee Willmott and Rebecca Turner, on the GBSwimstars website.

You can watch a video of the interview with Hannah, complete with some behind the scenes footage of the shoot here.

All images © 2012 GBSwimstars