The lure of collegiate swimming in the USA has always been great for up and coming British swimmers. The opportunity to train in a highly competitive environment within an elite programme and in fantastic facilities, while at the same time obtaining a degree inevitably holds significant appeal. The path across the Atlantic has been well travelled, with the likes of Steve Parry, Andy Jameson and more recently Gemma Spofforth and Simon Burnett, amongst many others, making successful use of a stateside training base.
But being so far from home doesn’t work for everyone. One such swimmer is Swansea’s Jemma Lowe, who spent an 18 month stint training with Spofforth at the University of Florida but who found the strain of being away from her family affecting her swimming. “I did miss home a lot,” says Lowe “It was really hard on my family and I did miss the UK.”
Having competed in the Beijing Olympics and achieved a 6th place finish in the 100m butterfly, the future looked bright for Lowe and a move to Florida seemed like an ideal opportunity to push her swimming career forwards. That wasn’t to be though, as relative disappointment stalked her through the 2009 and 2010 seasons, and a series of performances outside her best weighing on her mind as she made her way to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Despite again being off her best times, the Welsh swimmer battled her way to a Bronze medal in the 100m fly which helped to regain her confidence. “I was a bit disappointed with how I was swimming and my times” she told the media after that swim “So to get that medal, and not to get fourth place, was a big bonus and really helped me get motivated again.”
That motivation was also helped by her decision to return to the UK and to start training at Swansea with coach Bud McAllister. “I’ve been doing different training from what I’d been doing in Florida and Bud’s been working hard on my stroke as well, trying to catch more water and I feel my stroke has improved” says Lowe of her new programme.
The change seemed to provide an immediate boost with a silver medal in the 200m butterfly at the World Short course Championships in British record time at the very end of 2010 and a steady improvement in form through 2011. She secured her 200m fly place for Shanghai at March’s World Championship trials and then added a 100m spot at the ASA Nationals at Ponds Forge in June, pipping a resurgent Fran Halsall in a new personal best time and Welsh record. She also posted another Welsh record in the 200m event, dropping her PB by over a second to 2:05.36 and rocketing her way up to third in the world rankings, marking herself out as a medal contender for Shanghai.
To ensure that she achieved 100m Selection Lowe had gone through a brief taper that had left her feeling confident approaching the Sheffield trials. “I was positive I was going to swim fast but you never know” she said after her swims, “I hadn’t done a PB since the last Olympics so to get one here is a great stepping stone and shows I’m improving again.”
That improvement has clearly buoyed Lowe’s confidence as she prepares for the World Championships. “I’m definitely aiming for a medal” she said in Sheffield, “and with a bit more rest hopefully I’ll improve the times I’ve set this week”.
Shanghai will be far from easy, with China boasting the top two 200m fly swimmers, who are a significant margin ahead of the chasing pack and who will be competing in home waters. However, for a swimmer enjoying home comforts, and more importantly enjoying her swimming once more, the podium remains a tantalising prospect.