Surviving and Thriving in Multi-Finals Gauntlets: Part Four

By guest writer Julia Wilkinson-Minks (2008 & 2012 Canadian Olympian)

Surviving and Thriving in Multi-Finals Gauntlets: Part One
Surviving and Thriving in Multi-Finals Gauntlets: Part Two
Surviving and Thriving in Multi-Finals Gauntlets: Part Three

For the last three days, Swimming World has been looking at the different pieces that need to come together to create the perfect multi-finals puzzle. At the Olympics last summer, Missy Franklin showed the world that 14 minutes was more than enough time for her to prepare for a gold medal performance in the 100 backstroke following her 200 freestyle semi-final. In Barcelona this summer, Ryan Lochte upped the ante by successfully completing a daunting triple, earning himself two gold medals and a top seed for the following evening.

The previous three columns discussed the physical preparation needed both before and during the meet, along with the prior mental practice necessary to thrive in a multi-race scenario. These three factors, although necessary in their own rights, would be moot without the fourth: mental prowess during the session. Swimmers who win multiple medals in a single session are mental giants. If they weren’t, they would surely crumble under the pressure, regardless of how physically prepared they are.

As discussed in Part Two, it is imperative that a swimmer believes her or she will be successful juggling multiple races. If a swimmer arrives for warm-up with a “this is going to hurt” attitude, they have already taken a step back. Although, yes, it is probably going to literally cause physical pain to get to the end of the session, focusing on that is only going to make it worse. Positive self-talk is incredibly powerful and often underrated. When a swimmer is extremely nervous, it is beneficial for them to put on an air of confidence. Not only will this facade trick the competition, it will also trick the swimmer. By putting on an outward mask of confidence, eventually you will begin to feel confident on the inside, too. The same goes for approaching a difficult session: by telling yourself that you will succeed, and that it will not be harder than any ordinary finals session, you will begin to believe it.

Swimmers finding themselves in these challenging line-ups must approach their races with a specific attitude, and be racing for the right reasons. No one wants to hear an athlete continually complain about how hard their evening is going to be, and more importantly, the swimmer probably won’t succeed if this is the attitude they have. When Ryan Lochte was standing on the blocks, waiting to take over from Conor Dwyer in the men’s 4×200 freestyle relay, he could not have a “poor me” attitude. Looking over at lane five and thinking about the “advantage” that Nikita Lobintsev had over him because he had not already swum two events that evening would surely be self-destructive. In order to out-split Lobintsev, Lochte needed to know he was better than him, no matter how tired he was.

Swimmers also need to stop using statements like, “Well that was good for my third event of the night,” or “That was good considering I was so tired.” To maximize success, there should be no considerations. A race is good, or it is bad: there is no theory of relativity if you want to emulate Ryan Lochte or Missy Franklin.

Athletes have to put their blinders up if they want to have a fighting chance against the multi-finals gauntlet. Every event must be approached as if it is the first, and the last. There should be no concessions about a swim if there was a race before it, and you should always leave everything in the pool as if no swim follows it. Otherwise, Ryan Lochte might as well have treated his 200 backstroke like warm-up, and his relay like a warm-down. He didn’t, and he bookended his semi-final with two gold medals. To succeed under the weight of a busy program requires both the physical and mental side of swimming — in the preparation and the execution.

Julia Wilkinson-Minks is a two-time Olympian for Canada and was a finalist in the 200-meter IM at the 2008 Beijing Games. In 2010, she became Texas A&M’s first ever NCAA champion in swimming when she won the 100-yard freestyle. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Speech Communication. Julia retired from competitive swimming following the London Olympic Games and now lives in Texas with her husband Shane.

Follow her on twitter @juliah2o

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