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Pushing the limits

I’m always astounded by how life can change so quickly. Sometimes our most daunting changes seem to be the ones offering the biggest benefit. I’ve never been afraid to try something new and I’ll never be afraid of pushing my body to its limit.

London 2012 was my opportunity to once again step up and represent my country on the world’s biggest stage. I did, and managed to place sixth. Sixth best male sprinter in world swimming shouldn’t really be greeted with that much disdain and disappointment should it?

After the London Olympics, personally I was conscious that I was back in contention. I knew that I could compete with any other sprinter out there, despite my age, lack of funding, critics etc. With that in mind, I needed a plan to get back to being the best in the world.

Last November, I contacted a friend of mine, Aaron Ciarla, one of America’s truly great and under-rated sprint coaches. I met with my strength and conditioning coach Nick Folker, ex-South African Olympian and together, the three of us planned my upcoming season.

We discovered that I needed to increase my strength in the weight-room significantly. However, not only that but also the strength needed to be functional and which could be applied in the pool.

What would a great team be without a little bit of science? So we threw Takahisa Ide, resident video analyst and stroke guru in Phoenix, into the mix.

At 32, I was still learning something new and figuring out ways to advance. In swimming, one spends countless hours examining ways to improve performance by just one to two percent, which is often the difference between a gold medal and sixth place.

In Phoenix, where I’m based, I work closely with a friend of mine, Matt Kraemer. He’s the owner and director of Endurance Rehab and he keeps my body running smoothly. At the current age of 33, recovery and maintenance is my top priority.

I’ll give you some insights as to how I recover most effectively. What you see in the photo of me lying on my stomach, is a mixture of astym and dry needling.

What is astym? It’s a “therapy treatment that regenerates healthy soft tissues (muscles, tendons, etc.), and eliminates or reduces unwanted scar tissue that may be causing pain or movement restrictions.”

But enough about me. Team SA are all finally safe and sound in Barcelona. A couple more arrive today but the bulk of the team are now here.

A typical tradition amongst the bigger teams is that the rookie of the group performs some sort of initiation. I know it does wonders to build the camaraderie in a team and I must admit I’m disappointed we haven’t ever adopted any form of initiation, team plays or team-building exercises to further harness group cohesion.

With only a few days to go to ‘game day’ each person settles into his or her own routine. The second picture shows my teammates, Leith Shankland and Giulio Zorzi finding ‘balance’ and focus ahead of their events.

The next few days are all about fine-tuning, working on starts and turns, finalising race strategies and trying to get into as relaxed a state of mind as possible.

My first race, the 50m butterfly, is coming up this Sunday. Chad le Clos and I get to take on the world. What to look out for?

50m butterfly is about technique and power. It’s become an event dominated by powerful sprinters. In 2005, I became the first man to break the 23-seconds barrier. I attribute this achievement to my start, my rhythm and the power I generated off of each pulling stroke.

The 50m butterfly is an event I’ve won at World Champs in 2005 and 2007.

If any of you are wondering about expectations, fear or nerves… Am I nervous? Yes, for sure. I think it’s good to be nervous. Nervous excitement brings out the best performances.

Am I fearful? No, not a chance. This is what I love to do. There is not greater thrill than being on deck for an event like this.

Do I have any expectations? I’d like to be as good as I’ve ever been. I’m not going to focus on my competitors as I can’t control them or their performances. I’m purely focused on myself and executing the right race strategy. I can’t wait to compete.

Keep an eye out for my second blog post next week, where I’ll share more from behind-the-scenes. Feel free to leave your comments below…

Best wishes,
Roland S.

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