Mel Marshall: Sport’s Moral Purpose In Tokyo, Becoming An MBE And Improving With Peaty

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Mel Marshall: Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

“For me the Olympics is the start of what’s coming next, a bit of hope. I’ve said that the NHS has taken care of health and I feel like it’s sport’s job to take care of hope.

“I’ve never gone to an Olympic Games with a feeling more of our moral purpose.

“We’ve been on an oil tanker in a frozen river but we’ve found a way to make it so that when we take our oil tanker on to the ocean we’re going to be flying it down the back end.”

So says Mel Marshall, coach to Olympic 100 breaststroke champion Adam Peaty.

Also under her watchful eye are world 200 back bronze medallist Luke Greenbank, four-time European champion Anna Hopkin, Sarah Vasey, who won the 2018 Commonwealth 50 breaststroke title, and Jacob Whittle, the 16-year-old who blasted 48.55 over 100 free at the Glasgow meet last month.

All five swimmers plus Marshall will be in Tokyo as Britain seek to improve on their six-medal haul from Rio 2016.

While Covid-19 has wreaked havoc across the globe, it has presented us all with hitherto unknown challenges.

There has been no manual to refer to and no experience or knowledge to draw upon but instead we’ve all been called upon to adapt, adapt and adapt again.

After all, the unthinkable happened in sport last year when the Olympics was postponed and we’ve learned to expect the unexpected.

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Adam Peaty, Mel Marshall and Luke Greenbank: Photo Courtesy: Mel Marshall

For the coaches, it has been the steepest of learning curves with every potential eventuality anticipated.

Marshall told Swimming World:

“We’ve had to plan differently: we’ve had to plan and then re-plan and then re-plan.

“In some ways we’ve had to plan more to know that we’re going to have to plan less.”

She adds:

“It’s given us a different set of challenges these last 18 months but it’s also given us some advantages.

“A lot of people have really fallen back in love with the sport that was taken from them because of lockdown.

“People are more motivated and I think a lot of people are more focused because they’ve had less distractions and it has actually in some way, a really good learning curve that we’ve all been on.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s been really, really difficult. But I do think we triumph through adversity and I think we go into Tokyo in a place with really, really well-prepared athletes. I think that has been a good part of this journey.”

Even when speculation once more abounded that the delayed Games would also be called off, Marshall sought to quell the noise for her athletes and instead control the controllables.

She said:

“I think the mindset’s always going to be if it’s on, we’re on.

“Don’t read into the media too much because they’ve got a lot to answer for throughout covid and people’s anxieties around it because the amount of speculation that happens and how far that is away from the truth is quite incredibly really.

“Wait for the official sources, wait for the people who are on the onside, the BOA, the senior leadership team, wait for them to bring back information and just go with that rather than listeninag to anything that goes on.

“I’ve come off social media for the last 18 weeks; clean up your thoughts, clean up your focus, stay focused on what matters and just one week at a time try and get the best training you can in.”

Marshall Awarded An MBE

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Mel Marshall, Adam Peaty, 2014 Commonwealth Games: Photo Courtesy: Mel Marshall

Marshall has been guiding Peaty since he was 14 and walked through her doors at the City of Derby club where she was head coach.

Since then Peaty has won every title available to him – Olympic, world, Commonwealth and European – as well as setting 13 world records in long and short-course pools.

Not only has she developed the athlete with the pair going through a time-warp and completely redefining the 50-100 breaststroke but also the man, ensuring he sees the wider world with charity challenges in Zambia, East Africa.

The 39-year-old was one of six women who headed a UK Sport leadership initiative providing key support and mentoring for the next generation of elite coaches.

There have been awards galore including the 2019 International Swimming Coach of the Year and four straight British Swimming coaching accolades and the UK Sport Coaching Performance Coach of the Year.

Recognitions for all her achievements to date came in June when she was awarded an MBE for services to swimming and charity in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Marshall describing herself as “super over the moon”.

She said:

“Woohoo! Can you believe it – little old Mel from Skegness has got an MBE!

“Completely out of the blue, I got an email a couple of months ago.

“It was great, it was lovely, I rang my mum and she was over the moon.

“She said you’re still going to come and  dig that fish pond for me next weekend though aren’t you? I was like ‘yes I am mum’.

“But like the stuff I’ve done with Africa: it’s so much easier when you’re trying to talk to companies and stuff or open doors and you can send emails with an MBE after your name.

“That’s the win really.”

Self-Preservation, Calm And The Open Water

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Mel Marshall & Adam Peaty walking on fire: Photo Courtesy: Mel Marshall

The coaches have continued to be a fundamental part of an athlete’s day-to-day life, providing them with the guidance and structure when there was little or no certainty elsewhere in life.

It begs the question of who is looking after the coaches and Marshall learned she had to take care of herself.

She missed the competitions and the lessons learned there meaning she had to change the way she sees things and the way she operates.

The 39-year-old has a sense of calm that came with accepting that you can’t deal with every tiny detail that comes your way and to accept change, however unpredictable.

Like when Greenbank rolled his ankle shortly before trials and snapped the ligament.

She said:

“Before I was always high-energy but I’ve found this neutral space whereby so many things have been thrown at us these last 18 months that if I responded and reacted to them all I would be in a heap.

“I’ve just accepted we’re going to get things thrown at us whether it’s change of protocol, change of timetable, one person’s gone down with it, we can do this, we can’t do that.

“I’ve found this new space where it’s like well, there’s probably going to be some good stuff and there’s probably going to be some not good stuff and just deal with whatever you deal with.”

She has a new-found passion for open water swimming at Spring Lakes in Nottinghamshire in the English midlands.

“I absolutely love it. When we were first allowed to do outdoor sports, I went with a group of guys and they invited me along.

“I think they stitched me up because they gave me the dodgy wetsuit to start with because I was quicker than they were.

“I’ve reconnected with a lot of the parents I used to work with at City of Derby: we go quite regularly. I’ve tried to look after myself; I’ve run a marathon on Strava and just tried to stay really active.

“It has been a real challenge personally: not being able to see my mum, not being able to see my friends, not being able to see my other half – it’s been really, really difficult.

“But you’ve got to make the best of what yo have got, haven’t you? My mum taught me that. And that’s what I’ve tried to do – we haven’t been able to do that so let’s make the best of what we have got.

“This is going to sound big-headed but every single thing that’s been thrown at me through Covid, I feel like I’ve done a good job and I feel quite proud of myself that I’ve coped with everything at every round, I feel like I’ve beaten every round.”

The Constant Quest To Improve

Given Peaty hasn’t been beaten over 100m breaststroke since he made his international debut at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, he’s understandably the red-hot favourite to become only the second swimmer to defend that particular crown and the first since the great Kosuke Kitajima.

He tops the rankings with 57.39 from the British trials in April – one of four sub-58s this year – and completed the quadruple-quadruple at the European Championships in May, where he won the 50/100breaststroke plus the mixed and men’s medley relays for the fourth straight time.

Should he succeed, Peaty will become the first Briton to defend an Olympic swimming title, five years after he went 57.13 at Rio.

Coach Mel Marshall and Adam Peaty London Roar ISL by Mike Lewis D5D_8966

Photo Courtesy: Mike Lewis/ISL

For the pair of them, it’s about the constant quest to improve, Marshall saying:

“The process for me and Adam has actually not changed. There’s more noise around the edge from everybody of course and interest, people wanting to take him down as a competitior and that’s the game we’re in.

“The process for me and Adam has always remained very simple; okay, can we get better on this? What is the optimal? How do we continue to improve?

“I don’t think we’ve ever stopped searching for those extra edges and when you keep it that simple and you make it about him and you make it about the great team he’s got around him, me coaching him.

“I just think that it’s just about where are the areas we can get better at and I think we’ve found some really interesting areas.

“We’ve still got some more things we can get better at and we’re hoping that we’ve put the preparation into continuing on that process of trying to get better in the areas that we still see as areas we can get better at.”

The eight-time world champion became a father with partner Eiri Munro to son George last September and Marshall has seen the positive effect of parenthood on Peaty.

She said:

“They’ve handled it really well. Eiri has done a fabulous job: they’ve done a really good job as a trio.

“Life’s not perfect, it will throw you curveballs, it’s all about how you respond to things and accept the challenges and they’ve done that brilliantly.

“He’s got everything sorted, built a home for them, George is such a happy kid.

“He told me how George was playing in the soil: classic Adam dad that is! Tough it out lad, get in there, build your immune system up, dig up the garden!

“So I think George has had a really positive effect on his life: I think it’s balanced him, I think he’s done a good job with everything and as a trio they should be really proud.

“They’ve been locked down in a house as a new family for over six months of this last year: they should be really proud of everything they’ve accomplished.

“George is happy and they’re happy, they’ve done really well.”

Whittle, Tokyo And London Roar

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Melanie Marshall – Photo Courtesy: Action Woman Twitter

Whittle is the youngest member of the British swimming squad in Tokyo and heads there with two European medals under his belt.

Heat swims saw him claim gold in the mixed 4×100 free relay and silver in the men’s equivalent.

His professionalism at such a young age has made an impact on Marshall, who said:

“I’ve never had a 16-year-old communicate with me as maturely as he does.

“He’s very, very astute with his swimming; he’s very astute with himself, he’s very astute with what you would class as world-class admin – where you need to be, the fuel you need so very astute.

“Him and Adam get on really well; Adam the other day was doing a key set and Jacob was cheering him on.

“For a young 16-year-old lad to be in that company and giving him support I thought was really quite special.

“He (Peaty) has taken him under his wing a little bit. They communicate on the same sort of level in some ways which is quite unique and quite special.”

So too does she credit his coach Jamie Main at the Derventio eXcel club, saying:

“To me this has been a winning combination with working with the national centre and his home coach and he’s been so well coached by Jamie Main.

“He really has given me a brilliant athlete from a personal character point of view but also a technical and physiology point of view.

“He is a very talented young man but again let’s just see where we can go, see what happens.”

After Tokyo, Marshall will take a long break with the University of Stirling‘s Steve Tigg taking over as London Roar head coach for the Naples section of the ISL.

Marshall though will be back following that but for now it’s all eyes on Tokyo.

“It’s something positive to talk about. The stories behind the people that will go to the starting blocks will be incredible; I look at our centre and people training on their grandma’s chairs and putting squat racks on wheelie bins to keep going and training in garages all that sort of stuff.

“Just finding a way to be covid safe but to be training progressive.

“I’m really looking frward to it: we’ve come this far now so let’s go and get the swims we deserve.”

 


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