Abbie Wood: From Lowest Ebb To Making Waves At The Duna Arena And Finding Her Mojo

Abbie Wood (photo: Mike Lewis)
Abbie Wood: Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS / ISL

Abbie Wood wasn’t sure what to expect before she stepped into the Duna Arena for the first time in a little over three years in early October.

Wood made her senior British debut at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest but it wasn’t a memory to savour as she finished 20th in the 400IM, some way outside her best.

It rocked the 18-year-old and so intense was her struggle in making the transition from successful junior to senior waters that she considered quitting.

Heart-to-heart talks with coach Dave Hemmings at Loughborough saw Wood resolve to continue and now she is one of the breakout stars of the ISL with New York Breakers at the very pool where she reached her lowest point.

In an interview with Swimming World, Wood recalled the journey from the depths of July 2017 to where she is now.

She said:

“It really hit me. I went PB plus 10 in the 400 medley and I think it was a real shock to the system.

“I was close to quitting, it was a really horrible experience for me.

“I was kind of hoping that Budapest wasn’t going to be bad luck when I came back here this time but yeah, it’s a completely different story.

“I’ve grown up in swimming, I’ve really just found my mojo this season.”

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Abbie Wood: Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

Wood started swimming as a child in Buxton, a Derbyshire spa town in the East Midlands region of England, following in the footsteps of older sister Lucy.

The pair moved on to the Derventio club where Lucy specialised in backstroke, training in an elite squad that included four-time European and Commonwealth 200br medallist Molly Renshaw and Sarah Vasey, 2018 Commonwealth 50 breaststroke champion.

Lucy called an end to her swimming career in 2014 but the younger Wood continued, cutting a swathe through the junior ranks, guided by Derventio coach Andi Manley.

There were three medals – including 400IM gold – at the 2015 European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, the event doubling as the European Junior Championships.

Later that year – at the tender age of 16 – Wood moved lock, stock and barrel to Loughborough, sharing a house with 16 rugby players, eight men and eight women.

At the European Junior Championships the following year, Wood won 400IM bronze with her star on the up.

Then came Budapest and a reminder that junior success doesn’t necessarily translate to the same in senior waters.

And it was the 400IM where once she enjoyed trip after trip to international junior podiums that became a barrier that would block her way.

She said:

“I feel like I had everything I wanted as a junior and then when I went to the seniors the 400 medley started to get harder: I feel like when you’re younger the 400 doesn’t bother you.

“I’d feel like I had the best of what I had as a junior and then when I hit senior I was like a little fish in a big pond and it really overwhelmed me.

“I just lost my confidence that it wasn’t as glitz and glam as it was in the junior scene. Now I feel like I am starting to find my feet in the senior scene a bit more.”

Persistence Pays Off And Tokyo Blow Becomes An Opportunity

Wood ploughed on, the words of Hemmings ringing in her ears. It doesn’t always work out first time around he told her, it’s normal for that to happen in your first senior international competition.

It was still a battle but in April 2018 Wood went to the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, where she finished sixth and seventh in the 400 and 200IM respectively.

Four months later and roll on the European Championships in Glasgow. There she was ninth in the 200IM heats but in the two-per-country rule, Wood didn’t progress to the semis as she was fourth of four Britons in the top nine. She was also 10th in the 400IM.

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Photo courtesy: Team GB

Britain has strength in depth in the individual medley with Hannah Miley and Aimee Willmott – who boast four Olympic finals between them – dominating the longer event while Siobhan O’Connor, now a training partner at Loughborough, a Rio 2016 silver medallist over 200IM.

Wood persisted and a consistent series of performances was hinting at a fine 2020.

In December 2019 she won a hat-trick of titles at the short-course Swim England National Winter Championships, including a PB in the 200 free.

February 2020 came around and so did another hat-trick of golds at the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Long-Course Championships.

The following week she enjoyed a fine outing at the McCullagh International in Bangor, Northern Ireland, during which she won the 200IM, ahead of O’Connor plus 200 free gold.

Throw in her 21st birthday in March and it was a time of stepping stones with purpose and excitement.

That, of course, came to an end with the news that the Olympics were postponed until July 2021, initially a blow but Wood soon learned to look at the extra year as an opportunity.

She said:

“It’s bitter-sweet. I would have loved Tokyo to have been in 2020 but I feel like I wouldn’t have all this racing under my belt: I feel like the extra year has done me a massive favour.

“I’ve got another year to prepare where for some other people it would be another year of holding on.

“I feel like this extra year is a blessing because I definitely wasn’t swimming like this last October.”

Breaking Through At The Scene Of Her Lowest Ebb

For Wood, the Duna Arena is no longer synonymous with her lowest point in the sport: instead, it is a place where she has showcased her talent to the wider world and gained great confidence.

She set a new British 200IM record of 2:04.77 in match six, taking a slice of 0.36 off the previous mark set by O’Connor in 2015.

That was among two first and seven second-placed finishes so far for the Breakers with the semis to come.

Abbie Wood (photo: Mike Lewis)

Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS / ISL

There have been tussles with Olympic and world relay champion Melanie Margalis and Hali Flickinger, the 2019 world 200 fly silver medallist.

Among the reasons for her success in Budapest are fun, enjoyment and a love of short-course racing as well as less time to worry about upcoming races with the subsequent burdens of pressure and expectation.

She said:

“It’s me loving competition. Definitely with more events the less I overthink things.

“I don’t have time to get nervous with the back to back racing: something has just clicked in my brain this competition where the weight is lifted off my shoulders.

“I just feel a bit more gutsy in my swimming. Sometimes I over-stress so hopefully it carries on so now the switch is flicked hopefully it won’t go back to me getting too nervous.

“I think it’s really putting myself out there on the swimming scene.

“I feel like before I came here no-one really knew who I was and now I’m competing with and testing people who are getting American records.”


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1 comment

  1. avatar
    Gena slater

    Well done Abbie – so proud of you xxx

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