GAINESVILLE, Georgia, March 14. SPLASH Aquatic Club, a rising age group team about 50 miles northeast of Atlanta, got a big dose of Olympic experience last week when George Bovell arrived to swim with the team’s top sprinters and provide a clinic for athletes in the Atlanta area.
Bovell, who won an Olympic bronze medal in the 200 IM in 2004 and was in the 50 free final in the 2012 London Games, spent the week training with world junior championship medalist Paul Powers and Splash head coach Andy Deichert. Powers is preparing to attend the University of Michigan next fall, where Bovell has been training with the postgraduate squad.
Bovell’s clinic offered athletes the opportunity to learn about sprint stroke technique, and soak up some words of wisdom from a three-time Olympian. The proceeds from the event went to support the Rubber Duck Derby that benefits the Boys and Girls Club of Gainesville.
“I really learned a lot,” said Bryant Mathis of Carpet Capital Aquatics Club. “Keeping my chin more down when I breathe during breaststroke brings my shoulder blades closer together and more narrow so that I move through the water faster. I am much faster now.”
“I honestly couldn’t do half the drills,” said Kara Powell of Athens Bulldog Swim Club, adding that the key thing she learned was “pushing with my forearm when I was doing freestyle … really helped me focus on where my hand position needs to be when it enters the water.”
“The biggest takeaway from the clinic is George’s technical prowess,” Deichert said. “His ability to convert to a world-class freestyle sprinter from a top-in-the-world IMer is astounding. His greatest strength is his immaculate attention to the detail of each component of the stroke, every stroke. His belief that the smallest detail of the stroke can make such a big difference in who wins the race.”
Michael Wacho echoed that sentiment.
“George is all about technique,” the Chattahoochee Gold swimmer said. “Technique equals speed (and) knowing yourself in the water. Head position was critical for me.”
Below is a transcript of the Q&A session Bovell held with swimmers after his clinic.
Bovell: The average person, he’s just happy to do enough to get by, just happy to go through the motions. He’s just happy giving enough just to have fun. Just enough.
But the ones who actually become champions are the people who are willing to go so much further. They are the ones doing the extra; they’re the ones who are thinking about how to do it perfectly. And when they are doing it, they are never satisfied with their results. They always want to be faster. They went this time this season, that’s not fast enough; they always have to be faster. And there are always mistakes to be made. And if it was easy, you have to understand, if being great was easy, everybody would do it. And you guys are really fortunate to be able to have such good swimming pools and swimming clubs. I come from a place where the entire country’s population of swimmers is about 200. And we don’t even have a real 50-meter pool. I swam in an old, six-lane, 25-meter pool that has been around forever. It was terrible, and I was able to come out of that and win an Olympic medal and break the world record, and win two world championship medals.
So where you come from, being in a small town, small swimming environment – it’s no excuse. If you want to be good, the only limitation is how big you dream.
I have gone through the whole spectrum. When I was in high school, I was doing 100K a week some weeks. Ten practices over 10K (each) for some weeks. I have trained for the 1500 and 400 IM, and do I think that is the way to go? Not necessarily. Did it make me better? Probably not. But did it make me tougher? I think it really made me tough and it allowed me to face a lot of challenges in swimming that might have seemed hard to some people who are only used to only do 2K or 3K, but for me it was nothing because I’m used to doing 100K a week.
So I think if you want to be a 200 freestyler, 200 backstroke, 200 IMer, all those are distance races, you have to be able to swim quite a good chunk of mileage at a fast pace and feel good about it. Having felt comfortable and good. You have to be good at aerobic swimming. If your goal is to be a 100 or 50 swimmer, you need to be able to swim very fast. But you don’t need to be able to swim as fast for as long and you don’t necessarily need to do as much mileage. But at your age, you’re still growing and when you do a lot of aerobic yardage while you’re growing, something interesting happens, your heart actually adapts, and you have this dramatic expression that allows your heart to grow bigger, so you end up pumping more volume per beats. So that later on in life you’ll be able to be pretty fit without having to doing as much.”
Question: What is your biggest advantage in a race?
Bovell: “My advantages have constantly been changing. I think now, I think I’m really good technically, and I’m swimming where the difference between winning and losing is hundredths of a second. The 50 freestyle is the closest race in all of the sport, and everybody is really good. Everybody is super talented, they all have the best technique, they all have the best starts, they all have the best finishes, and nobody really has that much of an advantage. It’s just on that day, can you do it right? Imagine you’re playing darts. It’s like trying to throw 25 perfect bull’s-eyes every day. Having a perfect dive, perfect breakout, perfect technique, perfect strokes, perfect rhythm, perfect distance per stroke, perfect power, perfect body position in the water, all these things. Just like the checklist we talked about, each one of those things has to be perfect, otherwise it’s a couple of a tenths slower between a medal, or not even making finals sometimes.
I like to pretend I’m swimming for the first time. So often we don’t even realize what we are doing. It’s like diving in or just doing freestyle. We do this definition of what we think is freestyle. We don’t actually really realize how our shoulders are moving, how our hands are moving, what we’re doing in the water. We’re just doing what we define as our freestyle as just this kind of feeling. I want you to really be aware. Awareness is the key to having the technique. So today what I was really trying to teach you was how to teach yourself. I’m teaching you what to be aware of, what to think about. How to make those checklists. So you do those checklists all the time in practice so when you get to a race and don’t have time to go through and think about checklists, it’s going to be natural, second nature.
Question: Have you ever had a bad day? Because they (swimmers) sometimes have bad days and they don’t want to swim in another meet. So we wanted to know this morning, have you ever had a bad day?
Bovell: Absolutely, all the time. I’ll tell you a secret; you don’t have to be great every day. You don’t have to be great every day; you just have to be consistently good. OK? And it’s the consistency that makes the biggest difference. Because there are some people out there, we all see them, the people who are so blessed with talent, they don’t train hard enough. We see so much talent go to waste. What happens is you find the people who might not necessarily have that talent from the beginning, but because they are consistent, that consistency gives them the capacity to increase what they have and become great. And like anything else, swimming is about learning. It’s something we have to learn. Anybody can run, anybody can push pedals on a bicycle, but swimming is something you really have to learn and understand how to be technically efficient. If someone’s dad was a great swimmer, if someone’s mom was a great swimmer, it doesn’t matter. Can you learn the skills that will allow you to be more skillful than that person? Do you have the discipline to train hard enough? Harder than that person so that you can finish the race when it gets tough and be faster than them?
Question: Can you share with these guys what your diet is when you’re getting ready the day before (a race), during, and so forth, and what it is that gives your body energy and prepares you to compete?
Bovell: It’s like the old rule: If you have a Ferrari, or a really fast car, or you have this horse, this horse is beautiful, full of muscle and can run really fast; you’re not going to just feed your horse mud and expect it to run fast. It just won’t be able to do it; it’s going to get sick. You won’t have energy. If you have this really fast sports car, you’re not going to go and put tar in it and expect it to burn clean and actually work. It’s going to break down. It’s actually the same thing with your body. You don’t want to put all that junk food in, all that sugar. I don’t drink sweet drinks, Monster energy drinks, Gatorade, Coca-Cola, Mountain Dew. I don’t drink any of that. It’s just wasted and empty calories and lots of sugar. That’s the stuff that makes you fat. You see some people just looking so unhealthy who just breathe in through their mouths and look like they could die of a heart attack. That’s probably the reason. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a whole lifelong process that builds up to that. And also I don’t eat really processed foods. I don’t eat things that when I look at the label and there are a whole bunch of words that I can’t pronounce, metho, clroyn-something acid, and MSG, and high fructose corn syrup. I don’t put that stuff in my body. I kind of eat like a caveman would have eaten. I eat a lot of meat, a lot of vegetables, a lot of nuts. I eat a little bit of bread and pasta, but not too much. I eat a lot of fruit. I eat natural, real things. That’s the difference.
Special thanks to the Powers family for their assistance with this article.