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Diary from World Swimming Champs

Friday, 28 July

The World Championships in Budapest is nearing its conclusion, and it was amazing to see Cameron and Chad fly the South African flag high and bring home two well-deserved medals on Wednesday night.

Their performances were gutsy and we are all so proud to be their teammates. The dynamic duo have definitely raised team morale even more.

With a little less on my plate in terms of racing this year, I conclude my competition on Sunday with the relay, it has afforded me the opportunity to do some sightseeing and further explore this incredible city.

Budapest is a beautiful place with a rich history, and is made even more special by the constant buzz surrounding the ongoing championship.

Yesterday we managed to visit the 14th century Buda Castle. We took in its spectacular views before lunching in the city.

From there, we hopped onto the metro and travelled to the Hungarian Parliament and National Gallery.

Both are breathtakingly beautiful sites and it’s clear to see how Hungarians value their history in the way they treat these national treasures.

The historic buildings and structures are constantly maintained in order to preserve their original glory, which makes for a grand city.

A quick visit to the Great Market Hall, to pick up some souvenirs and gifts for family and friends back home drew our sightseeing to a close.

I absolutely love exploring the places we visit, but have to admit it’s a catch-22 because, as important as it is to see and explore, it’s also vital to stay off our feet as much as possible, especially for those of us who still have to compete.

For me, the highlight of the day was watching the Hungarian men’s water polo team in semifinal action against Greece.

Water polo in Hungary is more like a religion than a sport.

Unsurprisingly, the vibe was electric and the passion of the fans rivaled any English football match.

The stadium is situated on Margaret Island, which we reached by ferry.

These World Championships have been one of the best in terms of organisation and efficiency.

Public transport is free to all athletes, which makes exploring much easier. Volunteers have been incredibly helpful and the entire city has welcomed us.

An event like this impacts so much on your life as an athlete. Not only do you get the opportunity that so many sports people are denied in competing against the best in the world, but you’re able to forge friendships with competitors from all over the globe that may last a lifetime.

This has been an experience to remember and Budapest is a city to dream about forever. Búcsú Budapest!

A massive thank you to everyone who has made this possible. From my family, friends, coaches and trainers to our national federation, the host nation, organisers, volunteers and last but not least, everyone back at home.

One thing that has stood out is the unwavering support of the Hungarian fans. Capacity crowds have filled the stadiums every night and their passion for all aquatic sports is overwhelming.

It’s something that will stay with me for a lifetime.

It’s been an honour to represent South Africa and my heart is always filled with pride when I do. I hope I can keep making my family and nation proud, as both hold a very special place in my heart.

Tuesday, 25 July

When I lined up on the starting blocks last night for the second semifinal of the men’s 200m freestyle, I realised that all the months of tough training, blood, sweat and tears would be summed up in the space of less than two minutes.

The 200m freestyle is not my strongest event. However, it’s a discipline I have been working on and I have been eager to see what I could achieve. The morning heats went well, I finished fourth in my heat on Monday morning in a time of 1:47.09, and I was feeling fit and firing for the semifinal later that day.

My afternoon consisted mostly of resting up, recovering and preparing. There are always nerves in such situations, but it’s the body’s response to get you ready to race. Walking out for an evening semifinal is a feeling like no other. The crowd in Budapest is amazing. The announcement of your name is followed by cheers from supporters and the moment is all yours. It’s what makes all the hard work and pain worthwhile.

The race started off really well for me, but I just couldn’t seem to kick on for the second half and finished in seventh place in a time of 1:47.19. It happens sometimes and yesterday just wasn’t my time to shine. It was extremely disappointing to miss out on a final, especially by less than a second, but that’s sport. I loved every minute of the experience and being able to perform in front of thousands of people. Hungarians are fantastic spectators and hosts. Representing my country and doing what I love is a feeling like no other. It’s something I will cherish forever. Not many people can say they love what they do. Fortunately, I’m one of those individuals who can, and even during the tough times. Disappointments happen all the time and are impossible to avoid completely. From personal experience, it’s how you respond to setbacks that makes all the difference. I feel it’s never a failure if you learn something from it. You may not have achieved what you wanted to but, as long as you take something away, you’ll become a stronger athlete, competitor and person.

Placing 14th in the world isn’t bad, but it’s not where I want to be. This experience will motivate me and I will use it to drive me to train even harder and become better. It will be back to the grindstone for me on my return to SA, and I’ll use the experience and the lessons learned to improve and come back harder next time.

People often forget that these are the World Championships and, as such, Team South Africa is up against the best swimmers the world has to offer. It won’t always be sunshine and rainbows. The glory days cannot be endless and uninterrupted because no one is invincible. This period is about growing and working towards the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo by getting stronger and improving after each competition.

I believe the best of Team South Africa is yet to come. We all truly appreciate the support from back home. It fuels us to represent our beloved country with pride and it drives us to be the best we can be, so thank you!

Monday, 24 July

The morale within Team South Africa has built up nicely over the past couple of days. As a group of swimmers, we have trained, eaten and chilled together. There are a couple of newbies in the team, but they have settled in well and everyone’s getting along swimmingly.

I had a good night sleep on Saturday despite my roommate, Ayrton, crying out in the middle of the night. I’m glad I wasn’t having his nightmare! My Sunday morning started off at around 8am, as I added the 4x100m relay to my itinerary. After packing my bags and getting everything I needed for race day, myself and the rest of the relay team headed down for breakfast. We were comfortable and everyone was laughing and joking, which generally means people are relaxed and not too nervous. We headed off to the pool and arrived about two hours before our relay meet; just in time to watch the 400m freestyle. It felt weird not to be competing in that event this year, and I still felt butterflies in my stomach watching on.

As our time to race drew closer, we stretched and loosened up in the preparation area before heading off to warm up. There is a separate warm-up pool, so we are able to warm up when we want, which is generally an hour before we race. Warm-up takes approximately 30mins, and that is when the nerves start to kick in and the excitement ramps up even more.

After a light swim, we suited up and did our final stretches and pre-race routines before we headed down to the call room. Once inside, we did a racing suit, swimming cap and goggles check to ensure that they were within the prescribed regulation. We then handed in our accreditation and proceeded to the final call room to wait our turn to begin our competition.

Walking out onto the pool deck for our event was overwhelming. The Hungarian team was in our heat and the home crowd was going berserk. The cacophony of noise in the stadium was amazing and it’s something that truly fires you up as an athlete before a race. Our expectations were not overly high because our relay team was relatively inexperienced. Most of us are not purely 100m freestyle swimmers, which makes it difficult when racing the bigger teams who have a much greater depth of swimmers. Nevertheless our aim was to the reach the final. It was unfortunately not to be, but we were happy with how we swam. We know that each of us gave it our all, which is the most anyone can expect of us at this stage.

I believe the 4x100m relay event was a good warm-up swim for my 200m freestyle today. Going on the 400m freestyle I watched yesterday, I knew the final was going to be a great race. In turn, it will make for an exciting 200m freestyle. I’m looking forward to it and hopefully I can represent my country with pride. I couldn’t be more excited and ready to go!

Friday, July 21

I have arrived in Hungary after over 24 hours of travel, including the inevitable delays and lay-overs, which were taken up by endless standing around and waiting.

I love to travel the world and gain new experiences. However, the allure has somewhat dimmed at this point.

The charm of staying up all night watching onboard movies has morphed into me trying to fold up my considerable 6ft 3" frame into a never really comfortable position to grab what sleep I can between bouts of cramp.

We all needed to try to keep rested and loose so we didn’t feel terrible once we landed. Upon landing, the team morale lifted somewhat and the memories of the flight began to fade, as we entered the laborious and tedious process of collecting luggage, validating accreditations and catching a ride to our hotel.

Only a good swim could calm the nerves at that stage and, by the end of it, we were pretty desperate.

Eventually we were on our way and could begin to absorb our surroundings. Our accommodation situation is a little crazy this year, with the guys and girls staying in separate hotels.

Nevertheless, we’re all happy to have finally arrived and have settled in. I’m rooming with one of my club mates, Ayrton Sweeney. Ayrton and I have roomed together on a couple of previous tours and are comfortable with each other. We’re never short of laughs and always have a good time together.

That being said, when it comes down to brass tacks, we are both good at taking things seriously.

Hungary is a truly beautiful place and this is my third visit. I have travelled to its other cities for both swimming and waterpolo and I have loved it. Hungary has a rich sporting history, particularly in water sports.

As such, there is a greater sense of appreciation for our presence in Budapest. The buildings are all awesomely beautiful and there’s so much wonder and excitement within the team. Go Team South Africa!

Meanwhile, the pool facilities (which I have taken some photos of) are incredible. Built especially for these championships, every thought and consideration has been taken into account.

The actual competition stadium is amazing and I cannot wait to start competing in the impressive arena. This is what I was made for and I cannot explain the impact this is having on me, and how eager I am to do what I love best.

My first two swims are all about loosening up and shaking out the cobwebs, and then we’ll start with some speed work and make final adjustments before race day.

It is always such an amazing feeling finally getting to the competition venue, and realising that all the hard work you have put in and all the sacrifices you have made have brought you to this point.

A strong sense of pride and joy fills you, as you are now representing your country at the highest level of competition.

Here I am, living my dream for my country and I am so eager to begin racing. I’m also extremely grateful for this opportunity and the wonderful experience that is enriching my life.

Wednesday, July 19

I am excited to leave South Africa for Budapest, Hungary, today and I’m ready for the challenge and honour of racing the world’s best swimmers at the Fina World Championships.

I’m super stoked to have qualified for the event for a third time and am feeling confident in my preparation. Having entered my final week of preparation, no more work can be done to improve my fitness and strength. It’s all about getting as much rest as possible and fine-tuning our bodies for race day.

This period is commonly known as taper – a sportsperson’s favourite time in their training. Our training sessions get shorter and fewer, with more time in between sessions. The mileage drops, we start getting more rest as swimmers, and we soon start feeling what it’s like to have some energy.

However, it is not always plain-sailing. Taper is when the mental side of things start kicking in and when we have to wrap ourselves in a bubble. A drop in the intensity of our training, coupled with the winter cold and flu season, means our immune systems are even more vulnerable. It’s imperative we remain healthy. We become neurotic and nobody gets ‘hello kisses’ anymore, because we cannot risk the germs!

The current objective is to get as much rest and sleep as possible so that, come race day, we are full of energy and bursting at the seams to get going. It is also, however, when we have more time on our hands and much more energy than we are used to.

Normally, we are constantly being pushed to our physical limits in our daily training and become walking, barely-talking zombies. Now we are awake and aware and the door to distraction is wide open. This is when we need to stay focused and fine-tune our mental acuity.

The trick is to hone our mental strength and our visualization skills without over-thinking things, and not allow doubt to creep in. As an athlete, when you start to question your preparation and training, it can easily spiral out of control.

My schedule has changed somewhat this year. I have decided, for now at least, not to compete in the 400m freestyle, which is usually my strongest and favourite event. Instead, I’m focusing on the 200m freestyle.

They say a change is as good as a holiday, so my coach and I decided it would be in my best interests to switch things up. Our Olympic cycle was both mentally and physically draining, but competing at the Games made it all worthwhile and the incredible experience in Rio has given me the motivation to continue through to Tokyo 2020.

We believe in the choices we have made and look forward to reaping the benefits. I’m feeling strong and ready to represent my country with pride. The only expectation I have is to race hard, give my absolute best and enjoy the experience. Anything on top of that will be a bonus.

Check back regularly, as I will be sharing my experiences and insights from Budapest.

* Myles Brown will be representing Team South Africa in the 200m freestyle event at the World Championships in Budapest. The 25-year-old, appearing at his third championships, will be keeping a diary for us during his stay in Hungary. Brown will offer a behind-the-scenes account of life in camp and his exploits in the pool, as he tests his mettle against the world’s best swimmers.

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