When Emily Seebohm looks at her Australian teammates preparing for the Commonwealth Games, she cannot help but feel one of those twinges that come with the passing of time.
It does not seem that long ago that Seebohm and fellow 16-year-old, Cate Campbell, were introduced to the swimming world in 2008 as the youngest members of the Australian swim team that competed at the Beijing Olympic Games. Now the London Olympic silver medallist is, at just 22, one of the veterans of a relatively inexperienced team.
The Australian squad has undergone significant change since the disastrous showing in and out of the pool at the London Olympics.
With team officials having made public what they call their “aspirational goal” of climbing to the top of the world pecking order by 2020, Seebohm can find plenty of examples of the emerging younger generation in the team that has assembled for a training camp in Manchester before the Games begin in Glasgow next week.
Scattered among world champions Cate Campbell, Christian Sprenger and James Magnussen and the seasoned Seebohm, Mel Schlanger, Cameron McEvoy and Belinda Hocking, are the likes of David and Emma McKeon, Mack Horton, Jordan Harrison and Madeline Groves.
Seebohm, who will be competing in the 50, 100 and 200 metre backstroke and 200 individual medley, said she was beginning to feel like one of the team’s elders.
“I kind of feel like that. I want to hold on for a little bit longer so I’ll be around for a little bit more I hope,” she said.
“I just want to get the best out of myself and, when I think I have done, that is when I’ll decide to retire. I’m not hoping to go to four Olympics, four Commonwealth Games. I’m just wanting to get the best out of myself and once I’ve do that then I know it’s my time to retire.”
Seebohm, who received a wave of criticism for her sour bad language after winning silver in the 100 backstroke in London, said she wanted an Olympic gold most.
“I obviously want an Olympic gold medal and I showed that in London so I’m just going to keep going until hopefully I get one and it will obviously be the most exciting day of my life,” she said.
Hocking, who will lead Australia’s backstroke charge with Seebohm in Glasgow, also competed in Beijing but has bloomed later. She won a silver in the 200 backstroke at the 2011 world championships but has been disappointed with her lack of success at two Olympics. It was not until she picked up another silver behind American superstar Missy Franklin that she truly believed in her abilities.
“You look at someone like Missy. She wasn’t around in Beijing … but then she was there and she just wins everything (at London Olympics and 2013 world championships) and you kind of feel this sense that I’ve been on a couple of teams and made a couple of finals but I haven’t really done anything,” said Hocking, who will compete in the three backstroke races.
“But now I’ve got two world championships medals and I’ve made a few finals at different events and I do feel like I belong.”
She credits her improved form to a move from the Australian Institute of Sport to the Nunawading squad of Rohan Taylor in Melbourne, where she has been given the freedom to have a greater say in her preparation which she said was a world away from the strict AIS structures.
“When you’re younger and you’re a bit of a robot, it’s ‘yes, yes, yes, okay’ and you do what you’re told,” Hocking said. “But as you get older, you get a little bit more rebellious and you want to have that choice.
“I just needed a change. I needed to get out of that environment. Seven years in the same pool with the same people in the same lane doing the same thing can get a bit annoying, you can get a little bit over it.
“So I just needed to make a big life change. It wasn’t about changing coaches, but I needed to move. It was the best decision I made.”
Hocking said her journey had shown that it was important not only for the younger swimmers to enjoy their sport, but also to prepare for life post-career.
“It’s such a short amount of time we have on the team so you have to enjoy it while you’re here,” she said.
“A big thing for me is education. It’s really important to have a backup after swimming because once we stop swimming the funding stops, the sponsorship stops, a lot of attention stops, a lot of people stop caring about who you are and that’s really hard to struggle with when you’ve been in a sport and in that environment for 10 years.
“I think when you come out of that sporting environment it’s really important to have something … if I rely on Belinda Hocking the swimmer for the rest of my life I’m not really going to be able to go much further after my swimming career.”
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