In the bowels of the Olympic swimming arena on a late night in early August, Hannah Miley seemed less frustrated than those who had willed her to hold her position but then gasped as the priceless prize of an Olympic bronze slipped maddeningly – 0.15 seconds to be exact – short of her reach.
On the brink of her 27th birthday, at her third Games, it was as if destiny had callously determined the Scot was never to obtain the 400 metres individual medley medal she had coveted ferociously since taking the competitive plunge as a girl in her local pool in Inverurie.
Eras end in such moments. Careers fade to black. Time, and people, move on. Yet Miley was aboard a plane bound for Canada yesterday to begin one more Olympic cycle afresh, a new beginning with new dreams and renewed invigoration. The world short course championships, which start in Ontario on Tuesday, will see the double Commonwealth champion exactly where we have become accustomed to viewing her, on her blocks with achievement on her mind.
“I knew as soon as Rio finished that I wasn’t done,” she affirms. “A few people assumed that because of my age, I’d be off. For me, coming towards a Commonwealth Games, it would be my fourth if I actually qualified. There aren’t many who get that so that’s a special target to go for. And then there’s Tokyo.
“I’ve always taken it two years at a time After Gold Coast, I’ll reassess. And I’ve also got the world championships next year. Having those targets has really inspired me to keep moving forward.”
Despite a prolonged post-Rio hiatus to grieve but also to assess, a change has been as good as a rest. Multiple alterations, in fact. Moving out of her parents’ home for the first time (“a long time coming”, she laughs). A defection from the Garioch club and its compact 25-metre pool in Inverurie to the state-of-the-art Olympic-size baths at the University of Aberdeen. A move made irresistible by the appointment of her father Patrick as the head coach of its high-performance swimming team, a role which has allowed him to end his parallel employment as a helicopter pilot.
“It’s the first time in my career that I’ve had a full-time coach,” his progeny notes. “I’m actually able to train in the performance centre which means I get to be in a senior environment. I felt it was a good time to make a change and as much as I miss being part of Garioch and a tough little pool, it opens up an opportunity for me.
“I’m renting a place in Aberdeen now. It’s making me feeling I’m growing up as a person. And it’s a great place to be a part of and I’m excited to see where it can go under my Dad because it’s something he’s always wanted to do.”
The pair have yet to jointly dissect her Olympic performance. The BBC coverage remains unplayed on the digital recorder back at Miley Family HQ, a historical souvenir of coming fourth in a race where, for so long, the podium had her invite inscribed.
However, in a quiet moment back at the Athletes’ Village, she sat with British Swimming’s video analyst and pored over the data to reflect and to learn. On the backstroke leg, her arm speed had accelerated too quickly and it slowed her fatally down. It only confirmed what her well-honed instincts had already fed back.
“Had I maybe not rushed my rate on the backstroke, I would have been more efficient and that might have given me the half-second I needed. There’s that little fraction. But at the age of 27 I’m still learning. It was a hard process to come to terms with that. It’s taken me a wee while. I can talk about it now. And seeing how well the team did was also exciting and there’s a new generation coming through which will be strong. And I want to be part of that.”
Six Scots, including Rio medallists Stephen Milne and Dan Wallace, are among the 16-strong British squad for Windsor. The Road to Tokyo 2020 starts here, just as the journey to Brazil began at these championships in Istanbul in 2012 where the acquisition of Miley’s only world title to date was the ideal pick-me-up after a similar deflation at London’s Olympics.
“It just felt really nice to end that year with a gold medal,” she smiles. “Sure, winning in the long course holds more significance but for someone of my size, winning one in a short course pool is an achievement because it’s harder. It definitely gave me something to be proud of. It was cool to say I was a world champion.”