Duncan Scott On Blocking Out The Noise, Recalling Rio And The Constant Quest To Improve

Duncan Scott Speedo
Duncan Scott: Photo Courtesy: Speedo

For months speculation has swirled about whether the delayed Tokyo Olympics will go ahead.

Opinions have been polarised and loud while polls declared differing rates of opposition to the Games among residents of the Japanese capital.

Among all the noise the athletes have continued to prepare, the culmination of years of intense physical training and fine-tuning each component with their eyes on the biggest prize of all.

Without them there would be no competition be it age groups or Olympics but there seems to have been little attention paid to the possible effect of the clamour on the athletes.

But elite athletes have a mental toughness that sets them apart from mere mortals and an ability to shut out the noise and focus on their lane and what they can influence.

Among them is Duncan Scott, who has two Olympic silvers, three world golds and seven European titles among an extensive armoury.

Duncan Scott

Duncan Scott: Photo Courtesy: Speedo

The Briton told Swimming World:

“Over the last year with Covid affecting competition so heavily I think athletes are focusing even more on themselves and their own performance.

“For me I look at even less social media than I have done in previous years.

“If you do get too involved in it, it can be so up and down with the way Japan is, the way different environments have been, Canada struggling to have a trials and are competitions going to go ahead?

“I’ve just got to focus on what I can control, day-to-day training and different performances at competitions.

“So with that I’ve tried to chuck out even more and focus and narrow it down even more which I think has actually really been more positive.”

Neither has the subject been addressed among Scott’s training group at the University of Stirling where he’s coached by Steven Tigg.

Again an oft-used word crops up.

“It’s completely out of our control. We haven’t given that a thought.

“People were chatting at Europeans about a survey about how a massive percentage of people in Japan don’t want it to go ahead.

“We haven’t spoken about anything like that. We’ve just been looking at ourselves really.”

Scott found himself in the spotlight at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju when he refused to share a podium with Sun Yang following the 200 free.

The Chinese had been elevated to gold and Scott the bronze, alongside Martin Malyutin, after the DQ of Danys Rapsys.


Stand-off: Britain’s Duncan Scott, right, refuses to pose with Sun Yang, flanked by Katsuhiro Matsumoto, left, and Martin Malyutin, after the 200m free medals ceremony – Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

It sparked ugly aggression from Sun who confronted Scott, shouting “you’re a loser, I’m a winner” in his face.

That followed Mack Horton’s similar refusal after the 400 free and stemmed from Sun’s presence in Gwangju despite him having a CAS hearing looming after a clash with anti-doping testers during which a vial of his blood was smashed with a hammer.

Scott told Swimming World in a previous interview:

“I’m not sure I’d call it a protest as such. I wanted to do the right thing and support Mack”.

The whole tawdry episode came to a conclusion in June when Sun was given a ban of four years and three months, less than the original eight-year suspension but one that will nonetheless rule him out of Tokyo and the defence of his 200 free crown.

Speaking before the final outcome of whether the ongoing nature of the case was exasperating, Scott was good-natured yet firm, saying:

“It’s probably more frustrating that I keep getting asked about something I can’t control.

“It’s completely out of my hands, I haven’t even thought about it, I’ve not looked at it, I don’t know anything about it, so yeah, that’s it.”

Recalling Rio And Passing On Knowledge

Rewind five years and Scott, a Speedo swimmer, was heading to his first Games in Rio de Janeiro aged 19.

There he won silvers – both behind the USA – in the 4×200 free and the medley relay, anchoring them in 47.62.

Scott recalled:

“I think I was just overwhelmed by the amount of support that I had at hand with British Swimming.

“Everything is upped that Olympic year and even more so from the trials onwards.

“I was part of the Stirling group that went out there: we had Robbie (Renwick) – that was his third Olympics, (Craig) Benson’s second, Ross (Murdoch) had international medals since 2014 at Commies and 2015 (World Championships) in the 100 breaststroke.

“I was in pretty good hands in terms of looking around the group and asking them different questions about what to expect or does it matter if you go to kitting out or does it matter if you do this or that. I was just looking forward to it.

“I really enjoyed the whole holding camp environment: I’d been on a couple before but we had other sports in there as well so it was a multi-sport holding camp.

“For me it was really good to draw on their experiences and help with that which was quite nice.”

18th April 2021, London Aquatics Centre, London, England ; 2021 British Swimming Selection Trials

Duncan Scott: Photo Courtesy: Georgie Kerr, British Swimming

In the intervening years Scott has won three world medals – one of each colour – five gold and four European silvers and a haul of six medals, including 100 free gold, at the Commonwealth Games.

A wealth of silverware and a ton of knowledge for his younger or less experienced team-mates to draw upon, although he laughed:

“Unfortunately I act like one of them so no-one really comes up to me asking for stuff!

“To be honest a lot of the Stirling guys who are going are pretty similar ages to myself and they have had quite a lot of international experience anyway.

“But I guess it’s more the little things we speak about – doing things slightly differently with the morning finals and different preparations with travel; going across to Japan.

“KD (Kathleen Dawson) has had quite a lot of experience internationally anyway with Commies and she was a European medallist back in 2016 so she has experience.

“But it’s maybe the hype around the Games that is going to be slightly different to her this time and it’s just about how she manages that.”

A Constant Quest For Improvement At Stirling

Scott has trained at Stirling since 2015, the same year he won gold at the worlds in Kazan, Russia, after swimming the 4×200 heats when the youngest man on the British team.

Tigg, Brad Hay and Josh Williamson form the coaching team with the former at its head.

Five Stirling swimmers among a 30-strong British squad will travel to Tokyo with Scott joined by Kathleen Dawson, Ross Murdoch, Cassie Wild and Aimee Willmott, who’ll be competing in her third Games before she bows out of the sport.

Duncan Scott (photo: Mike Lewis)

Photo Courtesy: MIKE LEWIS / ISL

Scott points to the blend of youth and experience, the constant desire and quest to become better and the encouragement of independence of thought and action.

So too does he highlight the emergence of the women on the team.

He said:

“It’s just a lot of different athletes that have come together for different reasons: some really young athletes have come that are at the start of their university career or they’ve come and they’re starting university next year.

“We’ve got some really young girls, 16-17, and got people at the other end of the spectrum that have finished uni a while ago and have been to a couple of international meets and swum really well.

“So I think that mix of experience really helps and with that everything is cycled into training as well.

“You can have Aimee training with 17-year-old 100 freestyler Emma Russell where they both learn different things.

“For me its just a really good balance: it’s quite relaxed but at the same time it’s really professional and it’s down to the individual as well.

“If you want to seek and have continuous improvement you’ve got to try and get that yourself and go to the coaches and ask for different advice on different elements rather than it all being fed to you.

“For me the biggest thing is, I’ve actually really enjoyed seeing the programme go from when I was very first there….there were four boys on the 2016 Olympic team.

“This time at Europeans there was me and Ross and six, seven girls travelling from Scotland on the bus.

“It’s just really different to what it was at the start which I think is credit to the girls who have been at Stirling and how they’ve performed.”

Budapest Bubbles And Praise For KD

The British team secured a record-breaking medal haul of 26 – 11 of them gold – at the European Championships in Budapest, all the more notable given they were not fully rested.

Scott came away with two golds and three silver medals, including the 200 free behind Malyutin and ahead of team-mate Tom Dean.

There was also sixth place in the 200IM before he anchored the 4×200 relay to silver just 30 minutes later, a source of satisfaction.

“Really happy with the 200IM/4×2 double. First time I’d done 2 200s internationally on the same night.

“It filled me with confidence in the 4×2. I was happy with my last swim (the men’s medley relay) seeing how fatigued I was.

“KD was exceptional, (Kristof) Milak will go 49 in the 100 fly. (Kliment) Kolesnikov – some really good swimming.

“Some of the depth was quite scary.”

18th April 2021, London Aquatics Centre, London, England ; 2021 British Swimming Selection Trials

Duncan Scott: Photo Courtesy: Georgie Kerr, British Swimming

There was special praise reserved for Dawson who won gold twice in one night when the outcome of the initial 100 backstroke final was declared null and void after a Swedish appeal was upheld.

Dawson then returned to take gold once more with Wild finishing fifth, 0.24 quicker than in the first race.

Scott said:

“Full credit to Steve (Tigg), the support staff at British Swimming but also the way Kathleen and Cassie put themselves about.

“The way they were able to control it, the way they were able to react.

“It was a situation that Bill (Bill Furniss, head coach) said in a team meeting – I don’t know how many years he’s been in swimming now – but he was like ‘I’ve never experienced anything like that, never seen anything like that in my life’.

“Cassie was able to go quicker and PBd, changing a couple of thing.

“I was just sitting down with Deano (Tom Dean): he was getting ready.

“We were like what’s going on? There was a bit of a commotion, a couple of things went on, a couple of referees come up.

“Rather than being called a reswim, it was more a flick to the mindset and it was more the girls have got another opportunity.

“That was more the thing that was being put through: it didn’t matter that yes KD swam great and she won but you’ve got another opportunity, can you go quicker?

“I think that was credit to Steve who sat down with both of them and kept them relaxed and kept them focused.

“It showed later in the week: arguably their best swims were their last swims.

“KD went 58 (58.08, European record) with her last swim of a seven-day meet (in the women’s medley relay) and Cassie came second in the 200 back with a PB.

“I think everyone at British Swimming was really impressed with the way they handled it.”

Quiet Preparation Amid The Tokyo Noise

16th April 2021, London Aquatics Centre, London, England ; 2021 British Swimming Selection Trials

Duncan Scott: Photo Courtesy: Georgie Kerr

Scott travels to Tokyo top of the 200 free world rankings with his 1:44.47 from the British trials in April elevating him to ninth all-time, one place ahead of Dean who bypassed 1:45 altogether in 1:44.58.

Three other men have also gone 1:44 this year in the form of Katsuhiro Matsumoto (1:44.65), Malyutin (1:44.79) and Hwang Sunwoo (1:44.96) with a new champion to be crowned in the absence of Sun.

There is also the spectre of Romanian 16-year-old David Popovici who set about the world junior record books and overall rankings at the European Junior Championships.

Scott stands second in the 200IM rankings with his time of 1:55.90 bettered only by Michael Andrew’s 1:55.26 and he has a season’s best of 47.87 in the 100 free, although that provided little satisfaction for him.

Add in the relays and it’s a busy schedule for Scott.

Amid all the hubbub as the clock ticks down, he’ll enjoy some calm and quiet moments when he first visits the Tokyo Aquatics Centre as he prepares himself for the days ahead.

He said:

“For me I always like to walk around it, familiarise yourself with the surroundings, I like to go through the call rooms.

“Call room one, sit down; call room two and sit down and then do a walk out as if I’m going out for my race so the first time I go out isn’t the time I’m racing and I’m used to the way they are channelling us through the facility.

“Just getting used to it; doing a little bit of backstroke so you’re used to the roof as well but outside of that I try not to swim in the race pool too much, I like to leave it so I’m more excited when I am walking out and getting that sort of buzz.”


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