20/08/12...Burnett Is Back - Swimming Club welcomes Thame's finest Olympian -
THE London 2012 Olympics has left Great Britain tingling with sporting enthusiasm and Thame is no exception. On Saturday evening it seemed all the excitement was concentrated into Thame Leisure Centre as everyone crowded round to capture a little piece of Olympic stardust.
Patron of Thame Swimming Club and alumni of Lord Williams’s, Olympian Simon Burnett, visited the swimming pool in Thame to talk to the swimmers and ‘inspire a generation’. Simon was still recovering after competing in London 2012, his third Olympics. He has many medals to his name, from European Championships, Commonwealth Games and British Championships. Plus, he currently holds the British record for the 100m and 200m freestyle.
Arriving at the Thame Leisure Centre, Simon could easily have been mistaken for any member of the public, bar his Team GB kit and outstanding physique. He lives most of the year in Arizona where he trains. “It’s very different being in Arizona, to Thame and Oxfordshire. I live in a dessert!” Simon explained. He admitted to missing his family. When he returns to England for competitions and for Christmas, Simon stays with his mother in near-by Tetsworth.
Having only been home for a week since the closing ceremony, Simon reflected on the Olympic experience: “You can’t compare to previous Olympics,” he said, praising London 2012 on all counts. “The food was the best of any Olympics. All the transport was on time; they just got it so right.”
However, the Olympics are a competition and as Simon put it: “We’re all there to do a job.” How he described the collective focus of the athletes made me wonder what it was like living in the Competitors' Village: “Early on everyone’s really strict," explained Simon, "sticking to their routines. But once they start to finish their races they get friendlier and you interact more.”
It’s incredible, the athlete’s ability to switch off their competitive nature and Simon knows this more than most having competed in this, and previous Games, in the relay team. “We all train in different countries most of the year,” he explained, “and ninety percent of the time we’re competitors but then when the competitions come round, the GB relay swimming team is close knit and we're all reliant on each other."
Having been swimming since he was at school, Simon smiles as he reflects on the number of medals he has accumulated, from minor galas to County Championships. “I haven’t thrown any away," he reveals. "They’re probably in a box somewhere.” He talks of swimming in every event at competitions and gaining medals for all of them. Having been swimming in National competitions from when he was sixteen yeas-old, was he successful from a very early age? “when I was young I didn’t really achieve my potential, but on reflection, this actually probably helped me stay in the sport for longer and not peak too early.”
One thing that is clear when listening to Simon, he has a drive to teach others. “I like explaining things, then seeing someone just get it,” he says. Yet you couldn’t place him in the role of gruelling coach. “Swimming’s not an exact science, so I don’t like to tell people how to swim. You’ve got to experiment.”
This is something Simon is obviously very passionate about. He explained in detail to the younger swimmers how they needed to 'get a feel for' and 'be in tune with' the water. Then he shrugged, adding: “swimming is more than just pure force!” He talked about his role as more a case of giving swimmers guidance, and taking the time to make sure they have it exactly right, adding:“I guess I’m a perfectionist but when I think I can make someone better, that's very rewarding and gives me a lot of pleasure.” This precision and attention to detail is clearly a factor that has driven Simon Burnett to achieve so much in his career, and when a member of his awestruck audience told him he was an inspiration, he replied simply, “I hope so.”
As well as bringing his expertise to the Thame swimmers, Simon donated one of his Team GB T-shirts, signed by the Olympic swimming team, to the Club, and some of his Olympic swimming hats.
As a member of Thame swimming club myself, I can’t think of a better way to inspire our swimmers than having a piece of the London Olympic legacy on our wall. As for Simon, this was his last Olympics and although he is looking forward to retirement, he assured everyone that he will still be "keeping in touch with the water."
Greg Smith, a committee member of Thame Swimming Club said: “We’re always looking for new, enthusiastic swimmers to train up to be the next wave of Olympians."
Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of London’s Olympic Games will not only be the medals that have been won, but the medals that our future athletes have been inspired to win.
By Susannah Smith (ThameNews.Net Summer Intern)