The men’s swimmer of 2002 poll was always going to be close. There were few swimmers who really stood out from the rest across the year as a whole, but a string of impressive performances through the early world cup meets followed by a superb victory in the European short course championships, brought Steve Parry to the forefront of your minds. One of Britain’s most experienced team members, Steve has seen almost everything in the 200 fly, across an international career that spans back to gold in the 1994 European junior championships. Still only 25, there’s more to come from the big man, as pullbuoy found out when we met up with Steve to talk over the highs and lows of 2002.
2001 was perhaps a disappointing year by your own standards, so you must be delighted with the way that 2002 went for you.
I think the highlight of 2001 was getting to swim for the European team at the Goodwill Games, but of course I did miss out on the World Championships which was very disappointing. I feel that is now well behind me though and that it was part of an ongoing learning curve, even if I am approaching the end of my career. Last year however, was really, really good; I was slightly disappointed not to win at the Commonwealth games, but to win all those world cups and the European Short Course was brilliant.
You mentioned that 200 fly in Manchester, were you frustrated not to win it given that your PB would have probably won the title?
That’s just the thing about swimming at the highest level – you’ve got to be consistent and get as close to your PB as you possibly can every race. There were a lot of elements in the race though – it wasn’t a normal race. James [Hickman] went out very hard, which perhaps helped Justin Norris a bit, but James did what he thought was right on the day, and fair credit to him for that. But I’m old enough and experienced enough now to know my own race tactics, so it was slightly disappointing. I felt I missed an opportunity to win gold just 30 miles from where I was born. Six tenths of a second isn’t that much really, but its enough to make the difference and the only person I can blame there is myself.
Was Manchester the highlight of last year for you? Or did other events eclipse that?
I think Manchester was the highlight, being the major games of the year and I just put so much into it. It’s like all things – at this level you expect so much from yourself but overall the experience was fantastic. If someone had told me when I was younger that I’d win silver at a Manchester Commonwealth games I’d have thought “Great!”. It’s teed up quite nicely now though – I got bronze in Kuala Lumpur, silver this time, so who knows maybe in Brisbane in 2006 I can bring the gold back!
Sarah Price said she thought that Manchester was better than the Olympics. What do you make of that?
For Sarah I’m sure it was, but it is an intensely personal experience. For me the Olympics as an occasion, not just as a swim meet, is just unsurpassed in my experience. I believe that the Olympics is the pinnacle of every athlete’s career and the occasion, for me, did surpass that of the Commonwealth Games. Having said that it was definitely the second best experience of my life – a home games with all the home support was fantastic and we had a tremendous set of results as well. Of course the results in Sydney were awful as we know, but when the team is swimming well it really spurs everyone else on. That was another element of disappointment for my 200 fly. With swimming on the first day I wanted to get the team off to a winning start and was very proud that I got the opportunity, so I was a little disappointed not to manage it.
In Riesa you pipped James for the European Short Course title, which made it two from two for you in the major finals last year. Do you think perhaps you’re starting to get the measure of him?
I think over the last few years James has had the better short course, but I’d like to think I’ve been better long course. But he is a major talent and he certainly helped me when I was young. I think both of us now look more to international competition rather than a domestic rivalry, as it’s those swimmers who pose problems for major medals. Winning that short course title for me was really exciting – obviously James is 4 times world champion, and a great 25m swimmer and it’s nice to have won it. The quote afterwards came out really badly when I said something about taking his championship record as well, but that was just the emotion of the moment coming through. James and I are the best of friends and I feel can I say stuff like that, but it didn’t come across quite as well as I would have liked in the papers!
What about the 200 back – were you disappointed not to win it given the way the race panned out or just really pleased with a bonus medal?
Disappointed!? I was made up with silver! I never, ever thought I’d win a silver in the 200 back. I mean it’s just an event I’ve started doing over the past few years, I don’t train for it just get up and swim it. Those guys are obviously specialists so I was really pleased with silver from that perspective. But having seen my finish, Bill Sweetenham nearly kicked my head in! It was absolutely awful! I think it’s fair to say I probably should have won the race, but these swims have all come off unrested, unshaved high volume preparation, so it’s unbelievable that those sort of times were produced.
Were you surprised with your swims given that type of preparation?
All in all it was a pretty good weeks’ work – that backstroke silver with a British record and the 200 fly gold, especially considering we flew in from Melbourne on the Tuesday via England and were racing on the Thursday. The sport just baffles me sometimes to be honest. Sometimes people expect great things and they don’t come off and other times they just get on with it and seem to click. I’ve known the likes of Moorhouse and Gillingham say they felt rubbish in the morning and then go and break a world record in the afternoon. It just doesn’t seem to make any sense sometimes.
The ASA made a big deal about Bill’s policy on bodysuits/resting/shaving etc. While to people on the outside the difference between the GB team’s suits and everyone else’s was fairly obvious, was there really that big a difference in approach behind the scenes?
It wasn’t that we were doing extra morning training or anything, as it was a pretty early start anyway, we were just doing extended warm ups and swim downs to keep the volume up. It’s hard to tell absolutely what everyone else is doing. Obviously a lot of people went there fully rested for the meet because it is still quite a prestigious thing to win, but I’m sure there were other people there, certain individuals, that would have been training through, but I don’t think any country had a policy of training through the meet like we did.
Your old coach Dave Calleja’s gone to Australia with the junior development camp, so who are you swimming with now?
I’ve actually moved back to Stockport Metro and I’m swimming with Sean Kelly, who was the assistant coach when I swam there from ’99 to 2000. He’s an excellent coach, a young guy, but he really knows his stuff. There’s a good group working together there as well so I’m very happy with the way things are going at the moment.
Sounds like you’ve still got the desire to keep going through to Athens in 2004.
Definitely. The thought that I should call it a day after Manchester did cross my mind but there are things I haven’t yet tried in terms of training and preparation for meets and there’s no reason to give up just yet. The only time to call it a day as an elite athlete is when you stop enjoying it and when you truly believe you can’t go any faster . I still enjoy what I’m doing and believe I can swim faster so I’m going to keep going. When the day comes, I’m not going to keep swimming just because I decent at it I will quit, but I definitely want to got to Athens and try and improve on my 6th from Sydney.
When you do finally call it a day, are you concerned that there aren’t the juniors in the 200 fly coming through to replace you and James? For example in the women’s 200 back there are quite a few junior girls pushing the top swimmers at the moment
The girls are doing excellent, that’s obvious, but I think it’s pretty much cyclical. I think that where girls mature more quickly than boys it looks to me that the programmes that Bill and John Atkinson have put in place are bearing fruit quicker. I think that in time it will happen with the guys. I don’t know why there aren’t so many people in the 200 fly, it does seem to be one of the weaker events in the age groupers. A lot of people have said to me that its because James and myself have blocked the event out domestically for most of the last ten years and it would be nice to think that is the case . But I have no doubts than when James and I go people will step up to the mark or even come though and push us out. We were 17 and 18 when we started to break though on to the international stage so I’m sure one of the kids will feel that they’re ready for it and make the step.
Finally, what’s your main aim for 2003?
Barcelona as the major games has to be the main aim. I’ve got this deal with finishing 6th on the world stage so I just really want to improve on that. In the past I’ve said “I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that” but I’ve quit with saying where I’m going to finish! I just want go there, put a great race together and improve on my previous bests. The older I get, the more I want to do is be conscientious about what I’m doing and have fun doing it.