Former international swimmer believes London 2012 silver medal success showcases Higher Education's contribution to elite level sport
16 August 2012
Team GB's remarkable Olympic Games medal haul surpassed many people's expectations, and while Britain's swimming squad, perhaps, didn't enjoy the same measure of success (returning three medals overall), former international swimmer and Loughborough University masters graduate Julie Johnston has paid tribute to the vital role universities play in swimmers' careers.
Despite high expectations leading into various events, British swimming struggled to compete against other less-fancied nations' (and the heroics of the USA and China), but University of Bath student Michael Jaimeson's 200m silver medal breastroke success was a reminder that the Higher Education sector continues to nurture some of the country's finest talent.
"For Michael, who has combined his studies and training in the lead up to the Games, it would have been a matter of discussing his requirements with his course tutors and making sure his academic workload was at the right level to maximise his potential in the Olympic year, and it clearly worked," said Julie, who is a Podium Games Expert and performance consultant.
"Although I'm not aware of Michael's personal circumstances at the University of Bath, the institution would have helped him to design a perfect schedule going into the Games, which is crucial support for a young athlete. I think Michael has shown that he's withstood the pressure of balancing the two and handled it very well, certainly with all the expectation in the final and media pressure that he was experiencing at that time."
Having competed at three Commonwealth Games, as well as several European and world championships, Julie is familiar with the pressure of competing whilst studying, but the former Irish international swimmer admitted that universities are making the balance between the two easier and easier.
"Universities recognise that if they can help athletes and support their sporting ambitions alongside their academic careers then they're going to make themselves more available and desirable for elite performers. Many athletes actually find that training full-time isn't what's best for them, and although there are benefits to training full-time, that there's no doubt, other athletes need other interests and things to focus on away from sport.
"A lot of universities now will allow athletes to take courses part-time, certainly do the first-year full-time, then part-time from second year onwards, so it allows athletes to combine the two. With the excellent facilities that are available on campus' across the country too, it's a great platform.
"This support structure allows athletes to be in a situation that once they've finished their sporting careers they have other options to pursue, having gained the necessary qualifications."
Although it is acknowledged that top-of-the-range facilities are important for performers, Julie believes wider research and university project-led expertise can help improve athletes' performances in other areas.
"The facilities are crucial, but universities can provide nutritional support, sports psychology, strength and conditioning and a support culture which can help make that split-second difference for an athlete. This type of information, in the modern day, can really make the difference.
Julie Johnston is a former Irish international swimmer, Loughborough University sports and exercise psychology masters graduate, current Loughborough PhD student and performance consultant. She was talking to Podium's Stuart Appleby.
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