YOU would hesitate to call it an identity crisis but, seven years after breaking through at senior level, Robbie Renwick is still trying to define himself as a swimmer.
The Aberdonian is just back from a World Championships in which he finished sixth in the 200 metres freestyle. That built on the respect he had accrued by achieving two similar results – eighth in the 2008 Olympic final in Beijing and sixth in London 12 months ago. At the European Championships of 2010 and 2012, he finished fifth and eighth, respectively, in his specialist event.
It is an enormously creditable haul that demonstrates irrefutably that Renwick, 25, belongs in the very best of company in an event that is taken seriously in just about every swimming stronghold in the world.
And yet, the only major long-course medal the British record-holder has to show for his consistency is a Commonwealth gold from Delhi in 2010.
Renwick, who has never been based outside Scotland, is one of the greatest swimmers this country has produced but, if he is not careful, he could be harshly portrayed as the nearly man of world swimming.
To his credit, 11 months before a home Commonwealth Games, Renwick is not afraid of the prospect of being associated primarily with that event when he hangs up his goggles – but it won’t stop him pursuing higher honours.
“In a way, I feel like the Commonwealth Games is my Olympic Games. I’m never going to be the Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte and get six, ten gold medals but, at the Commonwealth Games, I’m really able to challenge for medals and get my success that way,” he said yesterday at the Royal Commonwealth Pool, during an off-season outing at the Fringe.
“My absolute dream is to win an Olympic gold medal and I’m going to do everything I can, but the Commonwealth Games is certainly a stepping stone along the way.
“I’m in the sport of swimming to try to get the best out of myself and compete for medals at the top of the game. So to come in sixth in Barcelona was a good result but I can’t help but be a little disappointed I didn’t get a medal. That was really what I was aiming for this season.
“The good thing is after Barcelona I am still No 1 in the Commonwealth, which is ideal.
“But a year is a very long time in sport so I need to make sure I stay ahead of everyone else and keep improving in my training, and keep training hard and consistently.”
Right now, a weight has been lifted off Renwick as he is on a three-week break. He spent a week surfing in Cornwall, and drove from Aberdeen to Edinburgh yesterday to spend a day with the multi-instrumentalist and comic Adam Page. But he will carry unfulfilled dreams into another winter training block, one that matters in a different way to the two that preceded it, when he was preparing to take on the very best.
So what does he have to do to find that extra second that will grant him membership to the very highest world elite?
“Absolutely everything has to be spot on, your lifestyle has to be perfect. You have to try to not get any illnesses throughout the year, no injuries,” he said. “All these little things are going to make a big difference. So it’s all about trying to get the little things correct leading into the Commonwealths.”
With that in mind, Renwick is planning the kind of winter that might just allow his skin not to pale.
“I’m going to try to stay away from cold winters as much as possible. Maybe get away from Glasgow for warm- weather training,” he said.
“I felt that really helped me last season and I want to do a bit more. I’ll go to Sierra Nevada for altitude, where it’s about minus ten! But I’ve a few weeks away with Scottish Swimming in Tenerife which will be nice.
“I’m going to sit down with my coach and find somewhere for training between now and Christmas. It really raises your Vitamin D levels. You feel so much better. When you’re up at 5am to train for two and a half hours, you don’t get the opportunity to recover. So getting out in the warm weather environments is really key over the winter months.”
Renwick has been training in Glasgow for five years, in the very same pool in Tollcross Park where he hopes to lap up the adulation of a home crowd next July. He can already sense the volume being turned up.
“You turn the radio on and you hear people talking about it, and it was similar in the build-up to the London Olympics. I’m quite fortunate that I’ve had that experience – I know what the home crowd expects,” he said. “It expects every athlete to do well and I know how to prepare myself.
“There’s no-one there that’s got any higher expectations than myself.”