LONDON, England, June 6. ONE of Britain's most decorated swimmers of a generation is playing a vital role in helping athletes from the present and those earmarked for the future to achieve at the highest level. Former Olympic, World and Commonwealth 1,500m freestyle medalist Graeme Smith, who retired from competition following the 2004 Olympics, still plays a valuable role within a sport he dedicated his life to and now helps others to try to reach the same heights that he has.
Ranked inside the world's top 10 over 1,500m for a staggering 11 years, Smith brings a unique level of experience and understanding to his role of athlete liaison and this week he'll be imparting that knowledge on Britain's swimmers at the Mare Nostrum tour across France and Spain. Although retired, the highly regarded Smith (30) is still desperate to influence British medal counts of the future and hopes that his experience and involvement will do just that as he works with a large and mixed British squad in Canet and Barcelona.
"What I do in my role will evolve over time. I support the swimmers, pass on my experiences and provide communication between athletes, coaches and support staff," explained Smith. "I think it's vital and I hope I can make a difference to our results in Beijing in two years time. It's similar to all of the support staff that work with the squad in that we're a service to be utilized by the athletes. That's all we're here for – to support the swimmers and to make sure they have what they need to do their job properly. I hope there's something I can bring to the team that will turn that ninth place into a final swim or that fourth place to an appearance on the podium in Beijing. If I can do that then it's a job well done."
Scottish born Smith will be working across a wide range of swimmers this week as part of British Swimming's Mare Nostrum squad. Not only will he be assisting former teammates and coaches, he'll be helping to introduce a group of talented youngsters to top international competition featuring the world's best swimmers. Putting the younger swimmers together with the more experienced athletes within the British ranks is something Smith believes can only benefit the sport in terms of international results in the future.
"It may not happen this week in Canet and Barcelona but what these young swimmers are doing is perfect preparation for the future," said Smith. "It's great having the juniors here with the seniors. Many athletes in action this week will actually be the nucleus of the squads that will compete at the 2008 Beijing and London 2012 Olympics. We're missing some key people through exams back in the UK and we've got a group of young guys at an offshore center in Australia but in the main we've got the present and the future of the sport together in one place."
Smith believes team spirit can be key to success in the international swimming arena and his role is ideally placed to ensure this important factor isn't overlooked.
"Over the past few years the team spirit has been a vital component to success. By integrating the swimmers together on the Mare Nostrum tour it creates a strong team bond and gives us something to continue to build on," Smith said. It's never a bad idea to include youngsters when you've got so many experienced and talented athletes for them to work with. It's not just a one-way street either as the younger athletes bring something new to any squad. They're a breath of fresh air and change is always a good thing when you're as dedicated and committed to sport. Going away with the same people for 20 plus weeks a year can get a little bit stale. The benefit of bringing together two generations is immeasurable. That interaction between different people keeps things interesting and fresh."
To promote that team spirit ethic, Smith together with sports psychologist Duncan Richards put the swimmers through their paces in France as part of a two-hour team building exercise,” Smith said. “Swimmers were put in various situations where they were able to learn about, understand and trust each, and in turn binding them together as a unit. The session went well and I hope everyone got a lot from it. It's designed to create that bond straight away and I think it did just that."
Smith, who has recently finished a finance and management degree in Manchester where he lives, won Olympic bronze in 1996 and World Champs silver in 2001 to add to a haul of impressive international medals.