Freya Anderson: Tears On Poolside At 10, Forbidden iPads And Girl Power With Mel Marshall At ISL

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Freya Anderson: Photo Courtesy: LEN

Freya Anderson may be a world, European and Commonwealth medallist preparing to race for London Roar at the International Swimming League but that is a world away from the shy 10-year-old in tears on poolside.

The Briton was trying out for Hoylake Swimming Club on the Wirral, north-west England, but she was so nervous and lacking in confidence that she recoiled, wanting to be anywhere in the world but there.

Anderson told Swimming World:

“I’ve always been really shy so I think that was reflected in my swimming.

“I remember my mum came on to poolside with me and I was stood behind her the whole time.

“I didn’t want to go and I was crying and screaming.

“They didn’t put me in the bottom group and I just wanted to be in the bottom group because I thought that was where I belonged and they put me in a group three places higher.

“I was like ‘I need to start at the bottom, I don’t want to go in, I’m too nervous, everyone’s older than me’.

“I must have been 10 – or not even that – but once I started to improve my swimming my confidence improved as well – thank God for that!”


Freya Anderson: Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Anderson made it into the water that day and after a spell with Hoylake she moved on to Wirral Metro, under the tutelage of Paul Remmonds.

Initially a breaststroker, Anderson’s learning curve continued and she competed at nationals aged 12 only for a stagnant year to follow when Remmonds challenged her to either give up or “get your head down and keep going.”

She chose the latter and at 14 won the 100/200 free double at the national age group finals at Ponds Forge, Sheffield.

Academia also called and with her GCSEs coming up, Anderson’s parents thought it would be good to merge schooling and swimming.

And so Anderson moved to board at Ellesmere College where the school team – the Titans – are coached by Alan Bircher, an open water and distance freestyler for Britain in his own racing days.

It was a move that Anderson says has done much for her as a person and athlete but even at 15 and cutting a swathe through the junior ranks, the teenager still had a chronic lack of confidence.

And that expressed itself one day at the pool as Anderson explains:

“When I first arrived I was so, so shy and I remember I was upset on a Friday morning and Alan got me out and was talking to me.

“But I was just so upset that I couldn’t speak to him, I had to write it down on paper because I just couldn’t get the words out.”

freya anderson ellesmere

Photo Courtesy: Ellesmere College Titans

And the cause of the tears?

“It sounds stupid. I was in year nine and you used to have to get your phones taken off you at night.

“I kept my iPad which wasn’t allowed and the prefects – the girls that were in year 11 or 10 – saw that I liked someone’s photo on Instagram.

“It all kicked off and was like ‘give me your iPad now’ and I got really upset about it.

“Thinking back on it now it’s hilarious but I was so upset about it I was literally ready to pack my bags and leave.

“Now I can laugh at it and I’m friends with the girls so it just shows how much I’ve developed.”

Starstruck At Worlds And Transition Into Senior Waters

Anderson describes her switch to Ellesmere as “100% the best decision,” borne out by her subsequent trajectory.

In 2016 she was crowned European junior champion over 100 free and paid three further visits to the podium with silver in the 4×200 free relay and bronze medals in the 4×100 free and 4x100m medley.

In 2017 she made her senior international debut at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary – in the very pool where the upcoming ISL season will be contested.

She placed 12th over 100 free and 32nd in the 50 while anchoring the women’s 4×100 medley relay to seventh and swimming the prelims in the mixed medley relay in which Britain finished fifth in the final in a then European record.

A multitude of memories for Anderson who said:

“That was really good. The crowd – it was absolutely insane in a good way.

“I was starstruck by literally everyone. I’ve always been a swimming nerd so when people are walking on poolside I’m like ‘oh my God, look who it is’. My friend’s like ‘who’s that and it’s – what? You don’t know?’ I’ve always had that.

“Definitely starstruck and I guess I still do get a bit starstruck. But now my idols are people that I race against it’s definitely changed. It’s fun, I enjoy it.”

And the identity of those idols?

“Back then Penny Oleksiak had just won Olympic gold in the 100 free and she’s a year older than me so I was always looking up to her.

“I raced against her and I was completely starstruck but thinking back to it now it shows you can achieve things you don’t think are possible. It is definitely inspiring.

“Before that it was the Campbell sisters, Federica Pellegrini and when I was really young it was Rebecca Adlington because she was really like Great Britain’s face of swimming.

“I was seven in 2008 (when Adlington won double Olympic gold). I watched her more in 2012 because I could understand it more.”


Photo Courtesy: British Swimming

Weeks later and Anderson was in Indianapolis for the World Junior Championships where she won the 100m freestyle in 53.88 with Rikako Ikee (54.16) and Kayla Sanchez (54.44) in her slipstream.

There were three European junior titles over 50 and 100 free and the women’s medley relay in early July 2018 before the senior edition weeks later in Glasgow.

There she won double gold in the women’s 4×200 and mixed medley relay where she anchored the British quartet in 52.83 despite the best attempts of Vladimir Morozov as the host nation lowered their own European record to 3:40.18, 2.53secs ahead of the Russians.

There were also visits to the third step of the podium in the women’s 4×100 medley relay and mixed 4×200 bronze and fourth in the individual 100m.

On to 2019 and the World Championships in Gwangju where Anderson made the final of the 100, finishing eighth, but it marked her first trip to the senior global podium where she collected bronze as part of the mixed medley relay.

Anderson also picked up her first senior individual medals at the end of the year with double gold over 100 and 200 free at the European Short-Course Championships in Glasgow.

Moving To Bath, Dave McNulty And Training For Tokyo

Into 2020 and the Flanders Cup where she elevated herself to third all-time among British women over 200 free in 1:56.06 as well as a new PB of 25.06 in the 50, leaving the competition with three golds.

It all hinted at an exciting 2020 to come with Tokyo just months away but little did we know the destructive path Covid-19 would take.

With Tokyo pushed back a year to July 2021, Anderson accepted and made plans by moving her training base to Bath National Centre under the experienced and successful coaching eye of Dave McNulty.

“I guess the word for it is uncertain. I was alright with it surprisingly.

“I thought I’d be panicking but it is what it is and I just had to accept that that was the situation we were in, everyone was in it.”


Freya Anderson; Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

There is still speculation as to whether Tokyo will go ahead or if so in what form given the ongoing coronavirus which shows no sign of abating.

Anderson describes the current situation as “weird,” saying:

“At the start of this Olympic season I was saying to my friend I feel like it’s not going to happen.

“We had our talk with Dave and he was like ‘listen we’re training as if it’s happening’ so that changed my mentality on it, just train as if it’s happening, have no regrets and if it doesn’t happen then so be it, at least you’ve got all that training under your belt’.

“It’s definitely weird, even not knowing what competitions are on at the end of this year.

“It’s a lot easier to train when you have something to train for.

“When I was younger I never used to like to set goals like that, like target Tokyo – I never used to do that, I don’t know why.

“My motivation to myself is to train so that when I am standing behind those blocks wherever it is I know I’ve put the best into my training, I have no regrets and I know I’ve done everything I can.”

The move to Bath was scheduled to have taken place after Tokyo but instead Anderson found herself bound for the south-west of England where she shares a house with world and Olympic medallist James Guy. 

McNulty has a fine track record, helping nurture and guide the likes of Michael Jamieson, Jazz Carlin, Jo Jackson and Siobhan O’Connor, a quartet who boast five Olympic medals between them.

All speak highly of McNulty, words that Anderson echoed, saying:

“He is such a good personality and so good to have on deck.

“He’s always just the same – bubbly and he’ll never be in a mood or anything – but at the same time I have so much respect for him and never want to let him down.

“He is very experienced as a coach but he’s like a friend, it’s good.

“He is just really good at understanding what athletes need and especially what girls need.”

Mel Marshall, Girl Power And London Roar

Anderson is currently preparing for the ISL with London Roar attempting to go one better than last season when they were edged out by Energy Standard in the grand finale in Las Vegas.

Almost all the Australians have pulled out of the season with Roar affected by the withdrawals of Cate and Bronte Campbell, Kyle Chalmers and Emma McKeon.

One woman who will definitely be there is Mel Marshall, head coach of London Roar and guide to Adam Peaty, Luke Greenbank and Sarah Vasey.


Mel Marshall: Courtesy: Eurosport freeze-frame

Anderson – who will miss the opening match on 18-19 October due to practicalities in getting to Budapest – has enormous respect for Marshall, saying:

“I think Mel is amazing. She’s a really nice person and so funny but also at the same time she’s so, so focused. She likes to get the job done which is a good trait to have obviously.

“She has got a really good energy so I think that’s good to have her on poolside and as head coach.

“It is amazing to have a woman as head coach. It’s a really good step forward – so yeah, girl power!”

The team-based format of the ISL means every point counts and is integral to the competition.

Anderson – who competed last season for Aqua Centurions – said:

“I’ve always thought I’ve been in a team because every athlete has a team behind them.

“Like even me and my coach are a team, I don’t want to let him down so I think that’s good to have that mentality especially when you’re brought into this proper team environment.

“You’re getting the points for yourself as well as your team which is good. It will be really good to experience.”

London Roar start their competition on 18-19 October against DC Trident, Aqua Centurions and Team Iron.

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