IWD: Freya Anderson On London 2012 Lighting The Fire, Beating Her Idols & Embracing Nerves

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Freya Anderson is on fire - Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

International Women’s Day (IWD)

To mark International Women’s Day, Swimming World is rolling out a series of features this Sunday to highlight the achievements and work of  pathfinders in swimming and raising issues that continue to have a massive impact on women in sport.

So far in our celebration of IWD 2020:

Here we take a look at British freestyle specialist Freya Anderson who has negotiated the transition from successful junior into senior waters with medals on the international stage to hint at good times ahead.

Originally published on 7 December 2019.

After being crowned world junior 100m freestyle champion in 2017, Anderson went on to win two bronze relay medals representing England at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.

Later that year, she anchored the British 4x200m free and mixed medley relays to gold among four medals at the European Championships.

In 2019 Anderson swam the freestyle leg as Great Britain claimed bronze in the mixed medley relay at the World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

She ended the year with gold in the 100 and 200 free and silver in the 4x50m mixed medley relay at the European Short-Course Championships in Glasgow.

And she started 2020 with a bang as she became the third fastest British woman all-time over 200 free with a PB of 1:56.06 at the Flanders Cup.

In April she will attempt to make her first Olympic team at the British trials in London.

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In her early days Freya Anderson was a breaststroker and it was the Olympics in 2012 that lit the flame within her at the age of 11.

She told Swimming World:

“My idol was Ruta Meilutyte because I used to be a breaststroker back in the day and I remember watching her winning gold at the Olympics – that is my first memory.”

Meilutyte would go on to win world and European titles before retiring in May 2019 with a FINA suspension announced earlier this year following three missed doping tests.

Anderson was only three when Federica Pellegrini won her first Olympic medal when she claimed silver at Athens 2004.

The Lioness of Verona will compete in her fifth Olympics in Tokyo come July, on the hunt for her third medal 12 years after she last visited the podium after taking gold in Beijing.

Anderson pays plaudits to Pellegrini and also to Dutchwoman Femke Heemskerk, the pair whom she relegated to second and third respectively over 200m when she came from sixth to first in Glasgow.

“I know their history and how amazing they are. I was on the ISL team with Federica so she is really nice and so is Femke: a really nice, friendly environment but we are also competitors at the same time.

“I treat them as competitors I guess which is weird saying that now. I used to look up to Federica and to say that I am beating her is really weird.”

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Freya Anderson; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Grand company indeed but the Ellesmere Titans swimmer welcomed it all, channeling the mental demands.

“I quite like having nerves, it shows that you are excited for the race and if I don’t have them it is kind of worrying but then you have to use the nerves as a good thing to get you pumped so I would rather have nerves than not.

“Experience plays a part in it as well: I was very lucky to be selected on junior teams when I was quite young so I got to experience the world stage quite young and be exposed it.

“It’s practise makes perfect really and exposure makes you less nervous.”

Anderson’s skills and back-end speed have come far in the past three years.  Had she noticed how far?

“Really far. I’ve never had a September to December block of training because I have always had an injury or something stopping me so to get that under my belt was really reassuring and I have been working on my skills for god knows how many years and finally it’s paying off.”

She reflected on her early days and what was a pivotal moment.

“The turning point of my career was when I was 13: I made nationals when I was 12 in breaststroke and then I had a bad year and then my coach at the time Paul Remmonds said to me that you are either going to give up or you going to get your head down and keep going. Then the next year when I was 14 was my breakout year I guess at nationals.”

Remmonds handed over a fit swimmer to present coach Alan Bircher, with Anderson, whose first clubs were Hoylake and then Wirral Metro, noting: “I always had a good freestyle base training with Paul and then at that nationals (when she was 14) it came out that I was good at freestyle as well as breaststroke.”

She looked back at the moments that counted most on the learning curve of stepping up to win no matter who may be in the lanes next to her, saying:

“I did world juniors in 2017 and won the 100. Rikako Ikee [JPN] was in it – I don’t know how I beat her but I did. There were a few Canadian girls. To win that I was shocked so I guess that was a stepping stone.”

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Anderson moved to Ellesmere in 2015 for academic reasons. She had GCSEs coming up so her parents thought it would be good to get her schooling and swimming merged. Exams behind her, Anderson remains in Ellesmere and is taking a year out to focus only on swimming, her shot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on the horizon.

Bircher, an open water and distance freestyler for Britain in his own racing days, has earned plaudits from peers for his work with Anderson. What was her relationship with the coach like, Anderson is asked.

“Really good. He is really chilled but you don’t ever want to let him down so in training he is mates with everybody and jokes around like he is one of the kids. But also you want to impress him, he has created a really good environment in Ellesmere where you don’t ever want to let him down and you always want to do your best.”