Dan Wiffen And The Lessons of His Successful Rebound in Dublin

Daniel Wiffen of Ireland reacts after competing in the 800m Freestyle Men Final during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 26rd, 2023. Daniel Wiffen placed 4th with the new european record.
Dan Wiffen -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Dan Wiffen and the Lessons of His Successful Rebound in Dublin

As he cruised to gold in the 1500 freestyle, spearheading what would turn into a prolific three days for Team Ireland at the European U23 Championships, Dan Wiffen was slightly confused. Proud, obviously, and pumped for his team to win three gold medals on night one but also surprised to have recorded a time within one second of his personal best and more than seven seconds faster than his result from a fourth-place finish at the World Championships only 12 days earlier.

The 22-year-old was a serious medal contender at a global-level competition for the first time this year, and after missing the podium by one spot and a half-second in the 800 free after swimming an impressive European record, he expected a breakthrough in the 30-lap race in Fukuoka. Indeed, Wiffen contended throughout the swim and for several hundred meters, he looked poised to overtake fading Australian Sam Short for third place. But Wiffen could not muster the burst to fully close the gap before Short found a second wind, pulling away to secure bronze.

Wiffen finished in 14:43.01, eight seconds off his best time from earlier in the year that vaulted him into the all-time top five, and more than 6.5 seconds behind Short. He told Swim Ireland that night, “A bit of disappointment there going in with the fastest pb (personal best) and then coming fourth, but I mean that’s just sport. I guess I just have to train harder and come back faster.”

Well, maybe not so simple. Perhaps the physical preparation was not the issue for Wiffen, not if he’s able to perform so much better in a race as grueling as the 1500 free with such a short turnaround. In Dublin, he got the win in a stellar time of 14:35.79. “I thought I was way over my (best) time and then to look back and see my time, it’s just special,” Wiffen said, according to Swim Ireland. “It shows I still got the training bank in me.”

Wiffen added, “We’re not really looking for individual success in this team coming into this meet. That was the World Champs. This goal is to have a big team atmosphere, to support each other and deliver.”

Daniel Wiffen of Ireland competes in the 800m Freestyle Men Final during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 26rd, 2023. Daniel Wiffen placed 4th with the new european record.

Dan Wiffen — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Correlation does not equal causation, but the circumstances surrounding each swim can certainly impact performance. Wiffen put pressure on himself to excel in Fukuoka, even to win gold after recording a mark of 14:34.91 in the spring. He circled this one race on the calendar, put stock in its results, but he did not execute the swim as planned. Then, thinking centrally about team results at the U23 meet in Dublin produced the swim Wiffen was capable of all along.

The quick recovery time from Worlds and then racing on back-to-back-to-back days eventually caught up to Wiffen, as he ended up with silver medals in both the 400 and 800 free, coming up short of his top times in both instances, but no problem there. That’s what Wiffen expected out of this meet, set up as the cherry-on-top event of an important summer.

Racing under immense stress and pressure is a reality in swimming, and the Olympic year will only multiply that tension. Wiffen’s task now is clear: the training is working perfectly, but perhaps tinker with the mental approach. Be ready for that next big moment, at the Paris Olympics next year. Prepare to implement the ideal race strategy, ignoring to the greatest possible extent what swimmers around him are doing.

Racing the field and trying to swim up to the competition’s level works for some distance swimmers, most notably American Bobby Finke. Not the best approach for Wiffen? No problem. There’s time, 11-and-a-half months to be exact, to zero in on what works in advance of Paris.

That applies for every swimmer (and there are many) not fully satisfied with their results from the pre-Olympic championship season. Figure out what worked, physically or mentally. For those who swam in World Championship finals, no need to start from scratch. But maybe something small can be refined — the taper process, a technical flaw, the attitude behind the blocks or on race day.

Those most willing to be honest with themselves and use what happened in 2023 to make the necessary changes will be the ones hitting their goals in 2024.

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C.E. Powell
C.E. Powell
9 months ago

Such a determined athlete, I’ve been following Daniel and his brother Nathan since they were schoolboys. They’re inspirational. I’m looking forward to Daniel’s performance in Paris next year.

Richard Skerrett
Richard Skerrett
9 months ago
Reply to  C.E. Powell

It’s a rare treat to see an Irish swimmer at the top level.Superb performances.

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