As one of the University’s leading performance clubs, UoB Swimming Club talked to us about how they faced the challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic and numerous nationwide lockdowns. Also, find out how some of our swimmers got on at the British Swimming Selection Trials for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and hear what Head Coach Gary Humpage had to say!
How has the club adapted during lockdown?
Like many swimming clubs across the country, we had to dramatically change our programme during lockdown. With pools and leisure centres closed, our swimmers had no access to a pool and as a result, all training had to be on land. At-home workouts and cycling soon became the primary way the club had to train. We went from always working together as a close-knit team to training remotely, from living rooms, garages, and gardens around the country. Many sessions were led remotely by our Strength and Conditioning Coach Kieron Smith.
For some, lack of access to swimming pools would mean that lockdown was the longest time our swimmers were out of the water since they started swimming in their early years. Some swimmers missed the pool so much they even purchased small temporary pools that could be set up in the garden! Using elasticated bungee cords as a tether meant that they could swim sets by counting strokes, as well as specific leg kick sets to maintain that all-important feel for the water within their stroke. Swimmers would receive daily sessions, with stroke counts and rest intervals, from our head coach, Gary Humpage, via the app ‘Commit Swimming‘.
Just as we regained our strength and fitness, the second lockdown hit in November. This second lockdown was a lot more challenging. With much colder and harsher weather conditions, outdoor options, such as cycling, became more hazardous and slightly less appealing. Running was also not advised due to the knee and ankle problems this can cause in swimmers, due to ultra-flexible ankles and high impact on the joints. The club also utilised sessions that the university High Performance Centre put on, which was a valuable resource to many. As we neared the end of lockdown, several club members opted to swim at open water venues.
How has the club kept the team spirit alive during lockdown?
Despite not being able to be physically together, the team has still managed to find fun and creative ways to stay in touch and to keep morale high. In the first lockdown, last years’ social secs Sam Davies and Will Carter organised some fantastic club quizzes, which tested general knowledge and some swimming-specific questions too! Following in their footsteps, throughout the second and third UK lockdowns, club socials and quiz nights were successfully arranged and executed by the current social secs Abbie Brown, Alex Widdall, and Sam Blacker. We now look forward to more in-person socials, to bond even further as a team, and are excited for the return of the much-loved sports nights.
How was training in the lead-up to the Olympic trials?
Due to the current government restrictions indoor pools only opened on the 12th April – this also happened to be the first day of the selection trials event, when competitors had to enter the strict Olympic Trails COVID-19 bubble. Unfortunately, this meant that pre-race training, for athletes Matt Rogers and Adrian Ting, was limited to just a couple of weeks of swimming in their local outdoor pools or open water venues. Preparation for this event was certainly not ideal or optimal, but both swimmers made it the best it could be given the circumstances.
When training, race components such as starts and race pacing, could not be worked on or fine-tuned as facility restrictions and lack of access to coaches meant that this was not possible. The outdoor pools were pretty cold, and this coupled with the low UK air temperatures made the sessions very challenging. Cold water and weather conditions, can make swimming at a pace more challenging than when indoors. Muscles do not warm up adequately to produce enough force over repetition (i.e. swimming at speed) and cause muscles to tighten up very easily. Due to the extensive time off and risk of injury, sessions focused more on technique/skills and aerobic endurance rather than the anaerobic training that their events required. This certainly is not how we would normally prepare for any competition, let alone Olympic Selection Trials, however, our swimmers remained focused and professional in their approach to their racing, and made the most of what was available to them.
Head Coach, Gary Humpage: My thoughts on the Olympic Trials
“Matt Rogers and Adrian Ting have shown a high level of commitment and passion racing at the Olympic trials. Despite only being able to train in the pool for around seven weeks over the last year, both have maintained their fitness levels by doing land-based work set by our High Performance Centre. Since 29 March, both have utilised local open-air swimming pools to complete sessions in preparation for the trials at The London Aquatic centre. Both swimmers had to join a bubble of competitors for the 5/6 days that they were in competition, to ensure the safety of all who were involved within the event.
Kicking off the trials Matt Rogers swam some excellent swims, including the 100m Breaststroke in a 1:05:32 where he finished 18th overall, and 200m Breaststroke, finishing 10th in a time of 2.22.74. Matt took on both swims very positively and was on PB pace for the first half of both swims. The 100m Breaststroke was only 0.99 second outside his 100m personal best, which is incredible under the circumstances. The 1:05.32 was faster than the 1:05.83 which was his personal best time from the British Championships in July 2018, prior to him joining the University of Birmingham Swim Team.
Adrian made his debut swim competing in the 50m Freestyle and was just .67 from his personal best to finish 18th in a time of 24.46. A superb performance considering the preparation training did not allow for the fine-tuning of skills for the event or for the lactate sessions and race skills that we have not been able to do since November. Adrian will now be targeting the club record of 23.91 set by Matt Sandell whilst working toward the next Olympic trials in three years’ time.
Both swimmers have shown immense bravery and strength of character and passion for competing at the highest level to represent the University of Birmingham. They have now immediately turned their focus to preparing for the next race and building on these performances. My heart goes out to all those who had qualified (From UOB Swimming) for the Olympic trials. British Selection championships before increased restrictions due to Covid made competing impossible. These were Adrian Ting, Matt Rogers, Liam Snook, Will Slawson, David Shipman, Jake Thomas-Mansfield, Jess Shaw, Elinor Bird, Shannon Campbell, Jess Telford, Laura McNab, Shannon Dalligan, Sophie Maguire, Hannah O’Flynn, and Rebecca Flisher.
The entire high performance squad had been in terrific form prior to COVID-19, setting 84 personal best in the 6 months from October 2019 to March 2020 and a total of 15 Swimmers were due to compete. As head coach, I have been very impressed by the team’s commitment to training and competition. We have super team spirit within the performance squad and the wider club. The performance squad has demonstrated its class by competing at the very highest level in the United Kingdom over the last 3 years by placing swimmers within the elite top 10 of British Swimming. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have supported the team from our High Performance Centre who are an important part of helping our swimmers compete at this level”.
What is the club looking forward to now restrictions are being lifted?
As a club, and like many swimmers across the UK, we are extremely eager to return to the pool and to eventually return to the levels of training and competing we were able to provide pre-covid. At the moment due to the rule that over 18s cannot swim in a club environment, our members have returned to the pool independently with set programs that they receive daily from coaches via our online portal Commit Swimming.
We are looking forward to the club sessions re-opening on 17th May when we can resume club swimming and build more specific training into our programs. This term we are looking into running a Swim England Level 4 Inter-Club competition to enable our members to have ranked swims this season. Depending on the situation after 21st June we hope to return to a Swim England organised regional meet as part of a national swimming festival. What we are really looking forward to is to represent our University once again at BUCS Competition and other competitions around Great Britain, training camps abroad once again and most importantly to return to a full programme for all of our four training groups, within the club.