We’re diving in at the deep end with this one…
Swimming has long been a favourite activity of mine, since my early years right through to my late teens, but I soon was way out of my depth (yup, two puns, three by the end…). I also remember the early days spent working as a lifeguard at my local pool and being in awe of the swim-club that used to train most evenings and making it all look so easy; their average practice lengths being faster than my all-out sprint speed!
So really, I have always had a tremendous amount of admiration and respect for swimmers of all levels, because it’s not easy anyway, and when you see those that are really good, and I mean REALLY GOOD! they just seem to be on an entirely different planet to the rest of us…
I was really fortunate to speak to a young athlete who is now making waves on the world stage (that’s three!) and has a very possible chance of qualifying for the next Olympics and representing Team GB at the games…
Take away as much as you can from this great interview with:
Firstly, could you tell us who you are, where you are from, and how long you have been swimming?
I’m Anna Hopkin, I am from Chorley in Lancashire and I have been swimming since I was 8.
Were you a good kid at school?
I was very good at school! I was quite quiet, but got on with my work and got good grades.
Where do you currently train?
I train in Loughborough at one of the British Swimming National Centres, I changed programs a year ago when I had to move back from training in the US due to the Coronavirus.
How have you found everything with the Coronavirus affecting so much of the world but also a lot of sports? How have you been spending your time, have you been able to train a lot?
This year has definitely been tricky for a lot of people, I was in really good shape this time last year and had really high hopes of going to the Olympics, and being unable to train and compete for so long definitely made me anxious that I may not be able to prepare the way I needed to make the team this year.
Luckily since May 2020, I have been able to train under elite training guidelines in Loughborough and we have been able to do some competitions to prepare for the Olympic trials. During the first lockdown, we had no access to pools so I was doing a lot of land-based work including running, cycling, circuits, and gym workouts.
With those of us who maybe haven’t swum competitively, or at all since our school days, could you talk us through some of the events that you compete in as there are quite a few, and like running/cycling, have sprint and distance alternatives?
I am a sprint freestyler and therefore only compete in the 50m and 100m freestyle.
Most people are very specialist and stick to one or two events but distances range from 50m to 1500m in the freestyle and 50m to 200m in butterfly, breaststroke and backstroke.
Then there are also individual medley events which combine all strokes…. and of course relays!
What is your favourite event and why?
My favourite event is the 100 freestyle as it is still a sprint event but can also be quite tactical in terms of pacing strategies.
Where did you discover your passion for swimming, was there anything that you did before that steered you towards it, or have you always swam since you were little?
I have always swum since I was about 6 and I don’t know if I developed a specific passion for swimming but I had a passion for sport and competing and as swimming was the sport I was best at it was the one I focussed on more.
Have you always been competing in swimming competitions from a young age or is it something you started later?
I took part in swimming competitions from the age of 8 and was relatively successful at a National level for my age, but I took a break from competitive swimming between the ages of 13-17 as I was struggling to find enjoyment in taking one sport so seriously.
I also wanted to pick up other sports I had to neglect for the sake of swimming as well as prioritising school work and enjoying a social life.
I restarted competing in swimming when I was 17, mainly so I could join the team at University, but I didn’t really expect it to go anywhere but I progressed quite quickly when I went to the University of Bath and since then I have never looked back.
I remember swimming training when I was younger and how gruelling the training could be, especially on top of school and other extra-curricular activities – the level of energy and fitness required is immense! Obviously I’m talking teenage level there, but what is that training like as an adult at the ‘elite’ level, what does that look like in comparison?
For me, training at an older age is much more enjoyable, especially as a sprinter, it is still very gruelling and some of the sets we do are incredibly tough and then you add to that to gym workouts which you typically don’t do so much as a youngster.
It is very challenging but I find training now much more specific.
When I was younger training was very volume-based, we did a lot of meters and really tough sets and when you add to that getting up at 4:30am and being at school all day, it’s a very hard sport to be part of. Now, I still do volume but a lot of my training is short and fast which is a lot of fun and I also get more input into what kind of training I am doing and we alter things depending on how I’m feeling.
It’s also nice not to have to get up at crazy hours or spend the whole day at school or work too!
You’re a multiple time British National Champion, do you remember winning your first gold title and what that feeling was like?
My first British title came in 2017 in the 50m freestyle. The previous year I had come 2nd and I knew that the following year would be my best shot at winning the title. At the time it was the pinnacle of my career and certainly not something I thought I would achieve when I got back into the sport again at 17.
But winning that gave me the confidence and drive to achieve more!
Also, you’re a 2018 Commonwealth Games 4x100m freestyle Bronze medallist, what was that experience like for you, especially in a team event, that must’ve been something special!?
The Commonwealth Games in 2018 are still one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in swimming!
Firstly, they were on the Gold Coast in Australia, which was amazing, the weather was incredible and secondly, the Australians love swimming which meant the crowds were huge and the atmosphere was electric. We knew that we had a great chance of winning a medal in that relay so to be part of that team was really exciting and I think it brought something extra out of me, I remember I did a really good time in that relay.
You also competed in your first World Championships in 2019, reaching the final in the 50m freestyle event which is amazing! What was that step-up like to that level? It must have been a fantastic experience and to also see what your competition is like?
Making the World Championship team in 2019 was so exciting, that year I had made huge drops in time and I knew it was possible to make the team but to actually go and do it is something else.
I think I made the most of the experience, I was new to the world stage, nobody knew me, and nobody expected me to make a final and I think I used that to my advantage.
Sometimes being at that level can be so overwhelming but I just made sure to enjoy every second and see the nerves as excitement and being in the same race as the best swimmers in the world was just incredible.
It must then be so frustrating that COVID has taken away a great many opportunities for you to get back out there and go for it again! How frustrating has that been for you and where do you feel you sit on that world stage?
It definitely was frustrating, my training was going so well at the start of 2020 and I was hitting pbs when I was racing.
I was so excited to see what I could do at the Olympic trials and then hopefully Olympics, so to have that all taken away was a huge blow. But at the end of the day, everyone is in the same boat, and the only way to approach it was to see it as an opportunity to get better over the next year and prepare the best way possible. I have also changed programs, moved back to the UK from the US and so it wasn’t just coronavirus that I had to adapt to but things are going well and we have had some preliminary competitions which are looking promising.
What is the marginal difference that is usually expected in the sprint events in swimming and how do you train in order to close that gap?
The time differences in sprint events can be tiny, more so on the 50 free, for example in the 2016 Olympic final, 0.1 of a second split the top 6 and that difference can be caused by a slightly dodgy start or finish so everything has to be perfect in a 50. This means in training we focus a lot on technicalities of stroke, dives, underwaters, breakouts etc.
Basically, there is no room for error!
Some people may be unaware but you have a Master’s in Sports Science. How much has that played a role in your understanding and development and what do you plan to do next with this new knowledge and experience?
I have always enjoyed education and from a young age I knew I wanted to do Sports Science. I think I’ve just always loved sport and been fascinated with how we can push the limits of human potential. I definitely utilise things I’ve learned in my degree into my lifestyle, particularly with nutrition and recovery, I have a good grasp on how to use these to maximise my performance. Since doing my masters I would say I have a greater interest in the health side of the degree and how I can be a part of helping people make healthy changes to their lifestyles because it is such a big issue at the minute. I think it is really important to continue education whilst pursuing elite sport to ensure you have opportunities available to you when you leave the elite sport bubble.
Could you talk a bit more about your training ‘outside’ of the pool, and what that involves, I’m sure there’s a lot more at the ‘elite’ level involved besides just mixing up the swimming training in the pool?
I do 3 gym sessions a week and one circuit, as a sprinter this is such a big part of my training as my events are very strength and power based, I also do pilates once a week which helps me work on control and stability, this is really important to maximise stroke efficiency. Finally, we do body health 4 times a week which are essentially stretch, roll and capacity sessions to strengthen the small muscles around the joints to ensure we don’t get injured.
Nutrition/fuel takes on a huge level of importance to any of these events, especially that people forget for one just how much energy is used to swim at ‘any’ intensity, and of course, you don’t see yourself sweating, which sounds silly, but dehydration and under-fuelling can really ruin someone’s ability to perform optimally. What protocols do you have in-place? Do you have individual support?
We have an excellent nutritionist who is available to us for advice on fuelling, and he monitors our body composition throughout the season to ensure we are maintaining muscle mass which is a good indication of whether you are fuelling optimally.
I am a sucker for routine, and the way I ensure I am fuelling correctly and getting the nutrients I need is to stick to the same kind of meals most days. I always have snacks on-hand for in case I need a fuel top-up at training and I make sure to have a protein shake if we have gym straight after a swim session. Some days are heavier than others in terms of training and so on those days I may need to have a couple extra snacks on hand.
What would you usually eat on a hard day of training?
On a day when we have 2x swim and 1x gym I will have a small snack before swim in the morning, a nakd bar or something and my coffee…
…I don’t function well without coffee…
…Then between swim and gym I will have a protein shake then after gym I’ll go home and have breakfast which is pretty much always eggs on toast and some fruit.
Then I’ll have lunch about an hour before I go back to the pool for my second session which is often a tuna sandwich or porridge and then if I need something extra, a banana or other small snack.
Then after training, I make my tea which is often something like a quorn stirfry, chickpea curry or quorn Bolognese
Before bed ill have a yogurt bowl with fruit and nuts and some dark chocolate or a hot chocolate.
Is there anything about the sport that frustrates you?
There is nothing more frustrating than doing a time you’re not happy with in a competition. We work so hard all day every day that you want to see the results when you compete. But I guess that is also the beauty of the sport, when you do a hit a good time the feeling when you see that time on the board makes every hour of training worth it.
Let’s get to it! ‘POCKET ROCKET’: When? Where? How? Why?
How do you deal with your nerves at a competition? Do you have a set ritual you follow?
I do get nervous before competitions but I try to stay relaxed and focus on myself, not worry about what anyone else is doing and just think about a few cues for my race for example focussing on my start or underwaters as this stops me thinking about the end result or time. I also ensure I focus on controlling what I can control for example my timeline, my priming etc and not panic about what I cant control e.g my other competitors.
If I or someone really wants to improve my swimming, what tips can you give to get me started?
Focus on technique first, this may mean breaking down the stroke and taking things slow and steady, perfecting each individual component and then building the stroke back together and practicing all these elements in training until they are engrained and become habit.
Is there anyone or anything else in your life who serves as a prodigious inspiration to your progress? Maybe family or friends?
My family is a definitely an inspiration to my progress, my mum had to get up at ridiculous hours to take me training when I was younger, supported me in my decision to stop swimming competitively at 13 even if she didn’t completely agree then supported every decision I have made since. Her and my dad have followed me all over the world to be at pretty much every major competition I have every done and they share in every success and disappointment.
Have you ever had a serious injury? How did you handle the recovery process?
I have been lucky enough not to suffer a major injury (touch wood) but as with most swimmers I have niggles in my shoulders and in my back. I’m very aware of how my body feels in the water and I tend to pick up quickly if something isn’t feeling 100% which means we can tackle it before it becomes a major issue.
Do you have any other passions in life outside of the sporting world?
I love learning so Im trying to do some more online courses now I am no longer in education, I also love reading and fashion, so I try not to spend too much money buying new clothes.
Important question, what is your favourite food?
Anything thai or sushi
Most hated food?
Favourite quote to live by?
“Greatness is the ability to be your authentic self in all situations and conditions”
Do you have any plans to compete again soon? Olympics?
My next competition will be the Olympic trials in April then after that depending on team selections there will be a few competitions in the run up to the Olympics.
Any particular mentions or shout-outs to sponsors or and DVDs?
I think once the pools open I’ll have to get right back in the water after that!
What a detailed and insightful interview with Anna, I’m sure like me, you will take so much from that, whether you are a keen swimmer, a hobbyist or someone considering to get going with it…
We really hope to see Anna at those olympics and wish her every success in the Olympic Trials, so let’s get behind her and show her our support!
Check out Anna’s page below by clicking on the image: