Interview: Hannah Miley, Olympic swimmer, on her possible retirement
SHE didn’t get a 2012 medal and may quit before the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio but the Inverurie-born swimmer is far from downbeat.
When someone talks of retiring at 24, you know they are either a super-rich pop star or movie brat, or an athlete such as Hannah Miley, the double Olympian swimmer from Inverurie in Aberdeenshire.
Miley has revealed to Scotland on Sunday that, at the ripe old age of 22, having competed with distinction at Beijing in 2008 and at the London Olympics, she has decided to give her gruelling career another two years but may not compete at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“We’ve got the World Championships in Barcelona next year and obviously the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 is the big one,” said Miley.
“I’m taking things two years at a time and whether I do Rio in 2016 or not kind of depends on how Glasgow goes.
“I would be 26 in Rio and I might just be too old because the Olympics brings out the younger ones at 18 when they are at their best. As girl swimmers we often peak between 18 and 21 but everyone matures differently so who knows. I’ll do Barcelona and Glasgow and see what happens then.”
Miley is currently on the British Swimming Heroes tour presented by British Gas which will come to the Scotstoun Pool in Glasgow this Wednesday. In Glasgow, along with local hero Michael Jamieson, the 200m breastroke silver medallist, she will be encouraging children to take part in aquatic sports such as swimming, diving and water polo, as part of the promised “inspire a generation” legacy of London 2012.
After her swims in the finals of the 400m and 200m individual medley and 4 x 200m freestyle relay – she came fifth, seventh and fifth respectively – there was a feeling of disappointment on the part of herself and some observers that she did not win the medal which had been predicted for her after her Commonwealth Games victory in 2010 and last year’s silver medal in the world championships. But if “bouncebackability” was an Olympic sport, the cheery Miley would take gold.
She was able to enjoy just two days at home in Inverurie last week, and the sense of relief at being out of the limelight was palpable in her voice.
“It’s been nice to unpack my bags and get a bit of washing done, and see the family,” said Miley.
There’s no doubt that the people of Inverurie have taken their Olympic heroine to their collective heart. Some of the local shops still have their pictures and posters of Hannah pledging support for the local girl who has always had their backing. In turn she deeply appreciates her home town, and the fact that the local people respect her and have given her the space to endure the inevitable anti-climax which follows any event on the world stage.
“It’s been pretty quiet here,” said Miley, “which is quite nice as we are all on the down at the moment, getting what we call the post-Olympic blues. I’ve been able to keep myself to myself and just enjoy the peace and quiet while I’ve been left to enjoy my time with my family which is great.”
The clichéd reports would have you believe that a “wee quine” from Aberdeenshire went south to the big lights of London but in truth Miley is a vastly experienced and much travelled competitor who was not fazed by the London Olympic hoopla. Well, except for a bit of celeb-spotting.
“I saw Usain Bolt sauntering about the dining hall on one occasion and you just couldn’t help but stand and stare and watch him swagger about in that way he has. I was also standing near to Andy Murray and Zara Phillips and Victoria Pendleton but I never really could pluck up the courage to actually speak to them, not least because they were speaking to people and it would have been rude to interrupt. Still, it’s nice to know that you are in the same area and can say ‘I’ve seen them’. You see them in the papers and magazines and on telly and then you see them in real life – you kind of expect them to look different but obviously they look the exact same. It was strange because you’re not sure what to do or how to react – they are just there being normal like yourself.”
All too soon, Miley will return to the Inverurie pool and the Garioch Amateur Swimming Club where her father, Patrick, is her coach. He has guided her career so far and will continue to do so, but you suspect she will have the call on whether she carries on after Glasgow – this is a determined young lady, after all. Indeed, Miley has already been back in the gym, and expects to go back into the water in mid-September. That training and the trip back north has given her plenty of time to reflect on the experience of London.
“It was the best two weeks of my life and I have certainly got a lot of memories,” said Miley. “It was an absolutely amazing experience, which I know are among the most over-used words by athletes, but it really is hard to describe exactly how it was apart from it all being absolutely fantastic.
“You really have to experience it for yourself to fully understand the magnitude of the crowd support, the hype and excitement in the build-up and even some of the disappointments as well – there is no happy medium, it either goes one way or the other.
“It was a spectacle that not very many people get to be part of and I feel really proud and honoured to have had the opportunity.”
Miley and the entire British swimming team as a whole suffered from over-hyped expectation of what they would achieve although, given the team’s success in Beijing, especially that of Rebecca Adlington, the anticipation of more medals than the three they finally gained was understandable.
“It’s a shame that people assume that what we did was disappointing,” said Miley.
“We came away with two bronze medals and a silver and I know it wasn’t what most people had wanted, but the fact is that we had 23 finalists and that’s the most we have ever had. Surely there we showed there was progression on the world stage, but some people just like to see hardware as evidence of progress.
“In rowing and cycling, there are not as many nations competing at the highest level, but swimming is not like those sports and standards are always going to be higher and more intense because there are simply more swimmers at the top level.
“We swam our hearts out and we hope we have done people proud. I think the team did a really good job and it’s been nice to see people supporting us afterwards.”
Miley has looked at her own performances objectively. She said: “I made a huge improvement compared to how I did in Beijing. Obviously, it would have been great to come back to Scotland with a medal and I really had hoped to finish in the top three but it wasn’t to be.
“I can only control what I do, I can’t control what the rest of the world does, and I can’t knock my performance as I swam the best heat times that I had ever done and made the final of the 200m individual medley which I didn’t manage in Beijing.
“I also made the final of the 4 x 200m relay which I also didn’t make in Beijing so, all in all, I am really happy with solid performances and I have come away with a smile.”
Miley and Jamieson will surely lead the Scottish swimming contingent at Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games. Lets hope all the Scottish swimmers are smiles better in 2014.
• Hannah Miley is a Scottish Gas ambassador and is supporting the British Gas Free Swims for Britain campaign which is giving away free swims and runs until 30th August. Simply visit www.britishgas.co.uk/freeswimming
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