IT SEEMS like no time at all since Hannah Miley was one of the young upstarts of international swimming: a competitor who could shock more well-established names on the world stage with some gutsy performances.
Now, at the grand old age of 23, she is one of the sport’s senior figures; a valuable scalp for younger athletes to claim. That was never more apparent than in Thursday night’s 200-metres individual medley at the British Gas International in Leeds. Racing in her signature event, Miley was beaten into second place by 17-year-old Siobhan-Marie O’Connor, who won in the second-fastest time in the world this year.
It should be said, of course, that the year is still young. While the British Gas meet is the first major event in the UK since last year’s Olympics and Paralympics, stars such as Miley are working on schedules that will not see them peak until the summer.
The British trials for the World Championships take place in Sheffield in June. The Worlds themselves are the following month in Barcelona. Miley’s work this week is designed to help her be at her best then and, in a sense, Leeds is no more than a test of where she is at in her training schedule.
“It’s a chance to see how fast I can swim while still training,” she explained. “But it’s also really important because it’s the first chance everyone has had since the Olympics to race each other.”
Having made her international breakthrough at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006, Miley has been at the top of her sport for seven years now, and sees no reason why she should quit any time soon. There may still be a general presumption among the public that swimmers, especially women, end their careers in their early 20s, but it is a presumption that lags behind the reality.
Certainly, although Miley can at times feel conspicuously old for her event, she is convinced that maturity carries an advantage.
“When I look at the programme for an event and see that I’m the only competitor who was born in the 1980s, that makes me feel old,” she explained. “Not long ago I was the baby of the team.
“But I have experience on my side now, and that is a very big psychological thing, especially in the call-room before a race. When you don’t have much experience, they can be very daunting places.
“It’s important to keep yourself under control when you’re waiting for your race, but sometimes in the call-room people will come up and talk to you when you don’t want to be talked to. And there was one girl who would do the splits, or just put her leg behind her head. That could put you off, or some people like to play their music very loud. I work best by putting music on. That helps get my head in the right zone.”
She is in the right zone physically as well as mentally. Guided as ever by her father and coach, Patrick, the Inverurie swimmer is showing no signs of slowing down, and last night she won the 400 metres individual medley. But she is aware that some of her youngest competitors are showing every sign of becoming serious rivals.
“There are lots of youngsters coming through in Great Britain, and at a certain age they may quickly drop five or six seconds off their time, perhaps because of a growth spurt. The level of competition in the 200m has really stepped up and now it’s really tough.”
• Hannah Miley is a Scottish Gas ambassador and is supporting SwimBritain, a campaign to create a healthier nation and get more people swimming regularly by 2015. www.facebook.com/BGSwimming