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‘Just gross’: Duck poo, paddling pools on swimmers’ road to Tokyo Olympics

By Neil Sands Published Jul 29, 2021 9:04 pm

For swimming purists, the Tokyo Olympics has been a “slow” meet, with only two world records broken so far—but that’s hardly surprising given the pandemic-enforced disruptions the highly tuned athletes have faced.

Coronavirus restrictions closed pools across much of the globe for long periods during lockdowns, forcing swimmers to adopt unorthodox training methods to stay in shape.

Participants have revealed how they braved bug-infested ponds and used paddling pools to keep alive their dreams of competing at the virus-delayed Games in Japan.

US freestyler Erica Sullivan recalled how she trained in drought-hit Lake Mead near Las Vegas on her way to winning a silver medal in the 1500-metre freestyle at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre.

“There was just duck poop everywhere and it was murky and a solid brown-green on a good day,” she said. “It was just gross. We were getting duck mites, apparently they like to eat on ducks’ poop and they like still water. We’d get in the water and we were covered in bites. It was nasty. It built character. I’m funnier because of it.”

US freestyler Erica Sullivan trained in drought-hit Lake Mead near Las Vegas on her way to winning a silver medal. Photos by Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

Australia’s Zac Stubblety-Cook powered to a gold in the 200m breaststroke on Thursday despite being unable to access the state-of-the-art swimming facilities in his hometown of Brisbane for three months. “It was an interesting time, we were still trying to do all we could,” he said. “I was training in the garage with a stationary bike, that’s what we had for a couple of months. It was humbling.”

Bumpy ride’

Another Australian, Brendon Smith, donned a wetsuit and went for dawn swims in the ocean with his sister during the Melbourne winter in choppy waters that were so cold it gave the pair blinding headaches.

“I have gone through hell to get here,” Smith told reporters after winning silver in the men’s 400-metre individual medley.

At the other extreme, Holland’s Sharon van Rouwendaal set herself up with a tiny inflatable pool in the backyard, tethering herself to a pole with an elastic bungee cord to create a cut-price infinity pool.

“There’s always a solution, you just have to get creative!” the backstroker posted on social media at the time.

Britain’s Matthew Richards, a gold medallist in the 4x200-metre freestyle relay, hit upon a similar idea when they bought a flat-pack pool that was one-metre (three feet) deep when fully assembled in the garden.

“We attached some bungee cords to the garage wall and he was in there swimming hour after hour in his wetsuit... keeping a feel for the water,” Richards’ father Simon told the BBC, describing lockdown as “a really difficult time” for the swimmer.

Swimming silver medalist Erica Sullivan

Richards’ team-mate Tom Dean, who also won the individual 200m freestyle, had his training disrupted by two bouts of coronavirus.

“It’s unheard of. When I was sitting in my flat in isolation, an Olympic gold seemed a million miles off, but here we are,” he said. Dean needed time to recover from the illness before he could resume high-intensity training. 

“It was tough having a long time out of the water and it obviously requires a slow build-up. Because of the nature of the disease, you can’t go straight back into full training,” he said. 

“It was tough, it was a very bumpy ride.” (AFP)