Hannah Miley is being a little mischievous. “I’m trapped in a man’s world,” she bemoans. If it’s not accepting instruction and analysis from her father-cum-coach Patrick, it’s pulverising the water at the swimming pool in Aberdeen in the company of her two training partners who, rather conveniently, double up as her young brothers.
Alastair and Joseph haven’t quite reached the ranks of the truly self-sufficient. “We’re still trying to help them work the dishwasher and the washing machine,” she confides.
Having spent a decade or more in her own private bubble where the relentless dedication required means she only occasionally comes up for air, you could forgive the twice-Commonwealth champion for feeling similarly sheltered from the mechanics of real life. Credit then to her mother Carmel’s insistence that she keeps it reasonably real, that Miley remains well-adjusted and impressively ego-free.
If the Miley men allow Hannah to drive herself to distraction, then it is Carmel who tethers her to sanity. “She’s like our team manager,” her daughter declares with an abundance of affection. “She keeps everyone in check and organised. If one of us needs something, she magically seems to know how to get it.
“Plus I’m always working with my Dad and my brothers so it’s nice to have female company as well. We can have girlie moments. We can curl up on the sofa and watch Come Dine With Me or Gogglebox. We can have a laugh. She’s one of my best friends and I can talk to her about anything.”
Now 26, the Pride of Inverurie would not be preparing to become an Olympian for the third time without Team Miley circling her wagon. The transport to swimming sessions as a young child in Aberdeenshire where she moved, a few months after her birth, when her father landed a job there as a helicopter pilot. The encouragement to get back up when form or fate pushed her down to the floor.
“There’s been a couple of times when I’ve come back from training at the pool but I’ve still had work to do in the mini-gym we have in the garage,” Miley recounts. “I’ll be having supper, having lost the will to live. But Mum will be kicking me out there as much as my Dad. And it’s good because it’s those little moments where I push myself and she encourages and helps that.
“I’m hugely in awe of my Mum. She’s supported me on this whole journey. But she’s never once asked for anything in return and that’s why, even though I do this all for my family, it’s especially for her.”
Which is not to underplay the extraordinary influence her father has had in a career that has brought Miley seven world championship medals and three European golds, and which saw her fly out to Brazil last week with expectations rather than outlandish hope.
Sixth in the 400m individual medley in her debut Olympics in Beijing, she was fifth in London four years later, leaving one gargantuan gap on an otherwise-remarkable CV. Until this spring, her instruction was purely Patrick’s labour of love, arranging his flying schedule around sessions habitually conducted in Inverurie’s compact 25m pool. Finally, and somewhat overdue, he received an offer to make it a full-time career with his appointment as high performance swim coach at the University of Aberdeen.
He will fit in well among the academics and boffins, Hannah suggests. “There was this time he invented a device called Aquapacer. Before then, he’d go swimming with two Casio watches strapped to his head. He’d get strange looks from the lifeguards but it gave him a countdown beep every minute to tell him if he was going quicker or slower.”
The concept had potential, he thought. “He took the device to conferences around the world and used it with a lot of Olympic athletics including Ian Thorpe – 70 per cent of those who won medals in Sydney in 2000 had used it. He taught me and my brothers to swim because he wanted us to be safe around water but I also think he was using us to experiment.”
He remains an alchemist in search of the perfect potion as the Olympics loom. Next Saturday afternoon, his eldest offspring will plunge into action and dare herself to emerge victorious. The family will offer their unwavering support but it will be on her shoulders alone.
“But when you’ve won medals at previous competitions, it gives you confidence,” Miley says. “You know you can perform and be on the podium. Swimming that silver at Europeans was a boost. But that was only Europe.” Beware the Australians, the Americans and the Asians. And the unexpected waves from below.
“When you get to the Olympics, a bit of luck can play as well on the road. Someone might be unwell or have food poisoning. You just need to get on the block and be the best you possibly can be and race the girls around you. I do it in training when I try to beat the boys. But that’s what sport is, trying to be the best.”
The women’s 400m individual
medley heats are on Saturday