The making of a swimmer

2009-03-03 08:27
Sport24 columnist Roland Schoeman (File)
Roland Schoeman

At the age of 15 I decided that I wanted to start swimming. For those of you who don’t know, I started swimming to impress a girl that was in the local swim team. I thought that if I started swimming she would see that I was interested in her. We only ended up dating for a couple of months, but my love for swimming continued to grow.

Throughout my youth I loved sport. I played cricket for Northern Transvaal, played club soccer, did athletics and even played a couple years of rugby. I always considered myself an athlete and a sportsman and initially swimming was just another activity to pursue. Little did I know then how it would shape my life.

One of the most common questions I get is, “what kind of training do you do and how much of it do you do?” Hopefully this will give some indication of what it takes to be an Olympic champion (all numbers and an approximation)

Training days: 4 850 days in full training
Kilometres swam: 48 500 (Average of 10km of swimming per day)
Minutes spent in the swimming pool:  1 018 500
Minutes spent in the weight room:  453 600
Arm revolutions:  29 100 000 (Average of 600 strokes per kilometre)
International flight:  85
Video analysis: 1 040 hours
Sports psychologist: 52 hours
Pilates: 13 320 minutes

The results:

World Records: 9
Olympics: Gold, Silver and Bronze medalist
World Champs: 3 x Gold, 1 x Silver and 1 x Bronze Medalist
Commonwealth Games: 4 x Gold, 2 x Silver, 1 x Bronze Medalist
Pan Pacific Games: 1 x Silver, 1 x Bronze Medalist

The way in which I have trained over the last 15 odd years is far from extreme and is actually quite typical. There are swimmers out there swimming distances that most people don’t enjoy driving in their car. 

The fact that I am a born and bred sprinter has also prevented me from doing too many kilometres worth of swimming. I hate seeing coaches out there giving their swimmers miles and miles worth of threshold work when their events last nothing more than a minute or two at the very most.

To me I’ve always wanted to work on specificity. Race specific training as far as I am concerned is the only way to train. You need to be able to get up on any given day and race well.

The key here is the coach – athlete relationship. The best athletes are able to sit down with their coaches and express their concerns, thoughts, doubts etc. The coach also needs to be wise enough to be able to rest his athlete when he believes they may be breaking down too much. It is such a fine line, but all part and parcel of becoming a professional athlete. You cannot have one without the other.

At this point in time I feel unbelievably fortunate. I’ve continued to grow and learn as the years have gone by. I’ve learnt what works for me in and out of the pool and I’ve also learnt what I should stay away from. I guess the most important thing for me was learning from all of my failures. Trust me, there were a lot of those. 

It is through these successes and failures that I’ve been able to surround myself with a team of incredible individuals who continue to help me on a daily basis in my pursuit of records, medals, best times and even more lessons.

My team is:

Coach: Igor Omeltchenko
Primary care physician: Dale Richardson
Weight and conditioning coach: Simon Webb
Pilates instructor: Katya Kinski

Special thanks to my sponsors Arena, MuscleScience, Mitsubishi, TUKS and The HPC

Roland is a multiple Olympic medal winner... and an avid Blue Bulls supporter.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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