They were there before all of my races at the London 2012 Olympics. I’d been in the venue before with a crowd but this was something special. The call room, where we all wait before walking out for our race is where the goose bumps started. It’s a simple room, burrowed away underneath the spectator gallery. In the corner of the room is a TV with a live stream from the pool and there is a row of chairs, one for each lane in the pool. Apart from officials, who are there to check everything is in order, it’s just you and the guys you’re about to race. It’s a pretty individual place, a nervous place at times.
When the next race is displayed on the big screen out in the arena, the crowd know you’re coming out. Even from underneath the spectator gallery, you could hear the initial roar, which made the hairs on my neck stand up. Walking out to the lane the noise was just amazing. I think I really fed off the crowd throughout the week. I felt comfortable in my races and I think that showed in my performances.
It was a perfect week of competition for me. The nerves were there at the start but after I hit the wall in my 100m breaststroke heat, there was a big personal best time and I knew I was in good form. After that, the excitement was far outweighing the nerves.
The 200m breaststroke competition was everything I’d hoped it would be. One thing that’s held me back over the past few years has been putting too much pressure on myself but the way things have gone this season with training and racing, I knew I was ready to take a drop in time. It was amazing to get personal bests in my heat, the semi-final and then the final.
Before the final I was just thinking about all the hard work which has gone in to the past few years and about my friends and family. My dad has always just told me to make the most of every opportunity and opportunities don’t get much bigger than an Olympic final. I knew I had another big performance in me and on that last fifty meters the noise of crowd was deafening, I could hear the roar and they really spurred me on to get that silver medal.
It was all a bit overwhelming; standing on the podium with an Olympic silver medal around my neck was an incredible feeling. I managed to hold it together for the victory ceremony. I couldn’t really wipe the smile off my face so I wasn’t in any real danger of welling up!
It was huge having my family there, as with so many other athletes they’ve been an incredible support to me throughout my life. When I was on the podium, I looked into the crowd and I saw my younger sister and my parents there, a couple of my teammates as well. I had to look away because I saw they all had tears in their eyes. It feels really good to be able to repay them and show that it was really worth it.
Later that night, I spent some time with my family before heading back to my apartment. I got back just after midnight and I just sat in the front room with the medal there, trying to take it all in. I started replying to all the messages of good luck and congratulatory messages I was getting, I must have been awake until about five thirty that morning. I just couldn’t sleep and process what was going on.
One of the things which was going through my mind was the path I’ve taken in the sport. I’ve been a pretty late developer, making my first senior team at 19 and getting my first senior medal at 22, which is pretty late for swimming. I hope that acts as some sort of inspiration. I think youngsters sometimes tend to get carried away with results. There really is no timeline for it and people mature and develop at different stages.
There was a period of about three or four years where I questioned myself as a swimmer. Questioned whether or not I was doing the right thing, wondered if I should try something different, but something in the back of my head just kept telling me to keep going, keep doing what I’m doing. For me it was just hard work and self-belief, you will get what you deserve if you put the work in.
Looking ahead, the aim for the next year is the World Championships in Barcelona but Glasgow 2014 is very much in my mind, it has been ever since it was announced. Tollcross was the pool I grew up training in. Tollcross was the pool I kept questioning whether or not I was in the right sport and if I should keep going. You could say Tollcross is where I did all my character building, so it’s going to be amazing to go back there. It’s going to be so, so hard to come out there on top of the podium, the competition is going to be as tough, if not tougher than it was at the Olympics.
It would be a bit of a fairytale for me if I could get the result I want in my home city in just under two years.