AS THE tears flowed, the Smiley Miley moniker which is usually extremely apt seemed ridiculously wide of the mark. The upset was evident.
Swimmer Hannah Miley had failed in her bid to land the first British medal of the London 2012 Olympics, having to settle for fifth place in the 400m individual medley.
But that wasn’t what prompted the waterworks as she spoke to the media in the immediate aftermath. Instead, it was the mention of her father Patrick, her coach and inspiration.
“The hard thing was the fact that the Olympics only come around once every four years so you put even more pressure on yourself and the reason I got really upset was that someone had mentioned my dad and, for me, because me and my dad have got such a close relationship, it absolutely broke me thinking that I had disappointed him,” she said. “Whenever I’ve won a medal, for example when I won the gold at the Europeans, the first thing I thought was that I do it for him. I know he hates that, he says I have to do it for myself, but in order for me to do it for myself I need to do it for him because he has given me so much and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him and I wouldn’t have been able to have had the opportunities I have had in swimming had it not been for him.”
The emotions were raw that day in London but the disappointment turned to annoyance when the recriminations started and some commentators suggested that remaining in the north-east of Scotland to be coached by her father, who earns his crust as a helicopter pilot and coaches on a volunteer basis, was stifling Miley’s progress.
“My way of paying him back is to try to be as successful as I can and show that all his hard work has paid off as well as mine,” she says. “That’s why the relationship works, because of the enormous respect we have for each other.”
That is Miley’s incentive ahead of this summer’s Commonwealth Games. Defending champion in the 400m individual medley, she is looking for another moment on top of the podium. It will be vindication for all the hard work put in at the 25m pool in Inverurie and the new 50m pool in Aberdeen, and a proverbial thumbing of the nose at those who took swipes at her dad.
“The hard part looking back [on London] is that the time I did at trials would have won me a bronze medal, so I had the potential to medal, but on the day it just didn’t happen. It was the fastest heat swim I’ve ever had to do and that’s the way the Games go, your heat is your final because everybody is gunning for it.
“Then it’s how well you can recover from it before your next race. Looking at the analysis, the girl Ye Shiwen [who won gold] made the biggest drop, then it was [bronze medallist] Li Xuanxu and then I was the next one to make the biggest drop. Everyone else did pretty much the same times so I did manage to step up but it just wasn’t good enough for a medal this time around. But I can’t do anything about that. I have analysed it to death and there’s now no point in dwelling on it.
“I have to take the positive experiences from it. That’s the home crowd and the fact I was able to produce a really good swim to make it through to the top eight in the world and then finish in the top five, which was better than in Beijing, so I’m able to use that experience and it can make me a better athlete and I know I can step up and swim fast back to back again.”
Miley’s bubbly personality is not a façade but it does mask an underlying feistiness. It is that mix of determination and optimism that has taken her to the top and allowed her to keep pushing herself.
Analytical by nature – a trait inherited from her father – she says she sits down at the end of every year and mulls over her goals and the best ways to achieve them. “I think about whether it’s still the right option to stay here and carry on or do I need to look at going somewhere else. I sat my SAT exams in case I needed to move on to America and created that safety net but it never came to that because, when I thought about it, every year I have made a progression and every year it has felt right. And also the relationship I have with my dad is very much one-on-one and I wouldn’t get that anywhere else in the world. I know my dad is the best coach for me.
“It isn’t the easiest option and I know some people have said ‘you could go to one of the ITCs (intensive training centres), go to Bath, go to Loughborough’ and for me that is the easier option but I don’t know why – my dad is part Irish, so maybe it’s stubbornness – but a) I don’t want to leave because it doesn’t feel right, and b) it’s too much of an easy option. The best rewards you get are at the end of it.”
It was like that in Delhi four years ago, when despite the competition becoming something of a war of attrition, Miley still emerged from the pool with a gold medal.
“Going into normal competition, everything is smooth, people know the exact times the buses run, you have great food, great accommodation, but Delhi was one of those places that you go to where it makes you appreciate all the things you had at other competitions.
“You could get on a bus and the bus that left after you would get to the venue before you. The bus would get lost and even when we got to the pool, the pool temperature was 23 degrees when normally it is meant to be 27 degrees. It was freezing and the competition nearly didn’t happen because of that. So it was pretty much about survival and how you can manage it.
“Our toilet flushed once every 12 hours as well, and I nearly knocked myself out before my race because the shower was built on a slope with the plug at the top end of the slope so I couldn’t really have a shower and I couldn’t have a bath because there were rusty nails protruding through the side of it.
“I decided to get the shower head and hold it over the bath and wash my hair that way. I went to flick my hair over the bath and smashed my head off the side and knocked myself out before the competition had even started! Thinking back to it now, it all adds up to great stories and great memories but I know that Glasgow will run a lot smoother. It’s going to be very slick and everything is going to be as a Commonwealth Games should be and the memories I have from this will definitely be more positive.”
For that to happen Miley will have to equal her feats in the pool, but she has complete faith in herself and, of course, her coach.