Glasgow 2014: Renwick breaks free of Facebook

MANY athletes bid a reluctant goodbye to social media for the duration of a major competition, often on team orders. Robbie Renwick said goodbye to Twitter and Facebook and associated distractions a couple of months back, of his own accord.

Robbie Renwick says he was wasting his life away on Twitter and Facebook. Picture: SNS

Unusually, the defending champion in the 200-metres freestyle did not even feel any withdrawal symptoms. Far from feeling he had been flung back into the Dark Ages, he felt liberated.

“I’ve taken Twitter and Facebook off my phone for the last couple of months,” said Renwick, who celebrated his 26th birthday yesterday. “It’s a huge distraction and I don’t think for an athlete it’s very good.

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“Straight away it was a huge relief. I was constantly refreshing this thing [points at phone] and I just thought to myself one day ‘What am I doing? I’m wasting my life away on this thing’. The novelty had worn off for me. It was my decision.

“This is such a critical point for us. I’ve been training for this for the last four years, and the last thing you want is to be wound up by someone else’s comments. Let the performances speak for themselves.

“It’s stuff other people say that winds me up and I want to get involved in that conversation and then I’m like ‘Look, don’t get involved, just take a step back’. So, for me, it was best to just get rid of all social media.”

Affable and easy going, Renwick does not seem the type to be wound up by anything in a hurry. Indeed, when it comes to one of the most controversial subjects in sport – doping – he has a calm, almost contemplative attitude that differs markedly to the anger felt by his team-mate Michael Jamieson.

At first, you might think that meant Renwick has his priorities wrong by choosing to criticise social media while not being outspoken about pharmaceutical fraudulence. But the two apparently divergent approaches are driven by the same desire for a spot of serenity, above all when competition is imminent.

Asked if he had ever been beaten by a doper, he replied: “No, not knowingly. Michael feels very strongly about it. I choose to believe that everyone I race against is clean. It’s really sad when you hear of athletes testing positive. I wouldn’t like to think all the time ‘Oh, he’s really good – he must be cheating’. The swimmers at this competition deserve to be here. They get regular drug tests the same as I do. So everyone is clean.

“I’m not really an expert on doping, but it’s an unfortunate reality that it happens in sport and it happens in swimming. It’s a shame. I can’t imagine why you would do it.

“It’s all about playing fair and trying to get the best out of yourself. I hope the ones who choose to go down that route get caught and get a long ban.”

Perhaps one of the worst consequences of doping is the way in which it sows suspicion throughout a sport. Just as counterfeit currency can cause a loss of faith in the real thing, so a rise in doping cases can lead to a presumption, no matter how unfair, that everyone is at it.

Renwick is well aware of the way in which a sport’s culture can be tarnished like that, but he has yet to feel it have a direct effect on the public attitude towards the Scottish team.

“I don’t feel like we’re at that level yet to be accused of doping. I don’t think anyone can accuse the Scottish team of that.

“If you look at the Americans and the Chinese winning all the gold medals, then get some people pointing fingers at them. We’re a small nation. We punch well above our weight. You just look at the quality of swimmers we’ve got.”

While the individual 200m freestyle is Renwick’s signature event, he also has a special fondness for relays, and is due to compete in three – the 4x100 freestyle, the 4x200 freestyle and the 4x100 medley. Given he is at his best over four lengths, it is no surprise that his team’s best results have come in the 4x200, an event in which he won silver medals in Melbourne in 2006 and in Delhi four years later.

“We’ve delivered medals in that in the last two Commonwealths and our team is looking good,” he said. “I’m really excited about that – next Sunday night.

“I hope I’ve put in some decent performances before that as well. I’m hoping we can do something really special.”