British Open Water Swimmer Burnell Announces Retirement Ahead Of Olympic Qualifier

Jack Burnell finish
Jack Burnell - Photo Courtesy: Swimming Australia

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British open water swimmer Jack Burnell has announced his retirement less than eight weeks before the marathon qualifier for the Tokyo Olympics is scheduled to take place.

The 2016 European 10k silver medallist has brought to an end a career in which he has secured European and World Cup medals as well fourth and fifth-placed finishes in 2017 and 2015 respectively in his four World Championship appearances.

There was though anger and desolation at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro when he was disqualified after lashing out at Oussama Mellouli with Burnell claiming the 2012 Olympic champion had hauled him back.

Burnell describes Rio as “my career highlight and my career lowlight at the same time”.

The 27-year-old was part of the British marathon swimming squad for eight years during which he made the top of the FINA World Cup podium on three occasions as well as claiming two silver medals.

His last outing was at the recent World Cup event in Doha where he finished 24th and Burnell says the time is right for him to step away even though the Games are now just three-and-a-half months away.

The qualifier is likely to be moved from Fukuoka and from its scheduled date of 29 May but this hasn’t played a part in Burnell’s thinking.

Instead, it’s something that has come – bit by bit – over the last 12 months.

He said:

“It’s not a decision that I’ve come to lightly, but it’s one that, over the last year or so, has been in the wings, waiting.

“From a physical and mental point of view, it’s definitely the best decision for me at this time.

“Everyone – my friends, my partner, my family, training partners, everyone at the National Centre – has been so supportive.

“I couldn’t be more thankful to them for that, because that was a huge weight off my shoulders.

“I’d thought a lot of people would be asking, ‘is this the right time?’ with the Olympics around the corner. But that didn’t happen.

“They know me best and they know that I swim for one reason and one reason only – and that is to be the best in the world. My body is not at a stage right now where it would let me do that.

“I felt I wanted to end my career on my terms.

“I just thought of sitting on the side of the road in Tokyo, having come 10th or 12th – I don’t want to sign my career off in that way, having had some amazing highs in my career, being ranked second in the world, winning World Cup medals, things like that.

“I wanted to sign it off in my way and on my own terms.”

Jack Burnell

Jack Burnell: Photo Courtesy: British Swimming

Burnell credits former coach Fred Furniss with having a pivotal impact on his career trajectory while Kevin Renshaw and David Hemmings have played huge roles in recent times at Loughborough National Centre.  

Of his highlights, Burnell said:

“My career has just been an absolute rollercoaster of emotions.

“We’ve had the ups, like being ranked second in the world, World Cup medals, European medals.

“They are all great, and at the time, you kind of gloss over them. Usually, it’s the lows that stick out to you at the time.

“Funnily enough, my career highlight and my career lowlight were at the same time, in Rio.

“Pulling on the Team GB jersey made me feel complete as a swimmer. But then what happened in terms of the result was probably the lowest moment of my career.

“I’ve never just sat and stared at the floor of my hotel room longer than I did after that race, just not knowing what had gone on.

“But again, those moments are all part of the journey and the experience I can take from what I’ve done, which I can put into the next chapter of my life. Had I not experienced those things, I wouldn’t be as well equipped.”

Burnell, who works in performance mindset coaching, acknowledged the roles others have played and the sacrifices made during his time as a swimmer.

“I really want it to be known that I was at the sharp end of the sword, I was in there, doing all the training – but there is no way on this planet that I’d be where I am today had it not been for my coaching staff, support staff, friends, family.

“You have your immediate support staff, your coaches or team leaders, but it’s even down to the people in the office that book the flights, the people that sort out all the forms, the media guys, everyone.

“They are all cogs in this big machine that creates a hell of a life for us athletes. It’s this time now to reflect and just say, ‘look guys, I cannot thank you enough’.

“The support has been unbelievable to get to where I am. Huge thanks goes out to everyone who has supported me from day one, really.”

British Swimming National Performance Director Chris Spice said:

British Swimming

Photo Courtesy: British Swimming

“Jack has been a valuable member of British Swimming squads for the best part of a decade now, and he has been a senior figure among the marathon swimming cohort for a good time too.

“He moves on to the next chapter with European and World Cup medals under his belt, as well as the honour of representing his country on the biggest sporting stage of them all at Rio 2016.

“Having been at the Loughborough National Centre for so long, I know he will be missed by his fellow athletes, coaches and support staff there and I’m sure it will take a little while for all at that Centre to get used to not having him around in training, in the gym and on deck.

“We wish him all the best for the future and will support him through this transition period. I look forward to seeing what he goes on to achieve in the future.”

Hemmings added:

“Jack has had a great career in marathon swimming. He has achieved so much, representing Great Britain at all major Championships and competing at the very highest level. He should be extremely proud of his accomplishments.

“It has obviously been a difficult decision for Jack to make, as swimming has been the main focus of his life for so long. He has also been a key member of our centre – a group where there is a great sense of camaraderie and belonging.

“But his decision comes at a time where he is ready for life’s next challenge, and I have no doubt the passion and competitiveness he has shown in his swimming career will serve him well in his next chapter.

“Well done, Jack.”


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