The Russian Dilemma

I have a very important decision to make tonight about my future, and by the time I am finished with this I intend to have made the right choice with no regrets in an uncontrived, natural way.

The Pan Am Games are over now. I did what I intended to do. The outcome could not have pleased me more, especially after crucial time off and a short season of just four months of training. Since my return to the pool in March, I have taken a long-term view on things. However, the most important competition is always the next one, which brings me to the decision I must imminently make. 

The crux of the matter I am facing is whether to continue on to race at more competitions, or immediately return to training focused on climbing the podium again next summer at the Rio Olympics. It seems like an easy decision, but the next competitions are the Fina World Championships in Kazan, Russia, and the first two stops of the FINA World Cup in Moscow and Chartres.

It’s not as simple getting there either. I would have to rush to put things in place by jumping on a train first thing in the morning to head to Ottawa to obtain a Russian visa there. From my past experience, if it goes smoothly, I would be waiting possibly a week, while I find somewhere to train, as I continue my now less-than-ideal preparations. 

Having obtained a visa, I would then book a last-minute flight deep inside Russia to Kazan, via Moscow and then enter and book flights and accommodations for the other two competitions. Recovering from the flight and overcoming the jet lag in time to perform at my best would then be my next difficult challenge. 

This stressful combination of the amazing race scavenger hunt and top international swimming competitions, was what my past experiences of doing the FINA World Cup circuit were all about.

Optimum performances in the next competitions would dictate that I continue to extend my “taper” as we say in swimming and rest so body continues to recover. In essence this would mean refraining from the hard training that shocks and breaks down the body, but stimulates it to adapt, thus causing improvement. Tapering is like stopping working, and withdrawing all your hard-earned savings from the bank, while the hard work that causes physical adaption is analogous to working hard and depositing money steadily. 

In doing so, judging from my past experience, I would likely be able to squeeze out a maximum of three-tenths of a second improvement in my 50m freestyle with more easy speed, and thus, hopefully, drop from 22.1 seconds here in Toronto to the vicinity of a potential 21.8 if everything goes perfectly.

For some, that might sound fast, but  for the last decade the 50m freestyle has been insanely competitive with so many incredibly talented athletes, within hundredths of a second of each other. At the last FINA World Championships two years ago, I went on to win the bronze medal from lane eight in a time of 21.51 seconds, a time that would have won the silver in the London Olympics just a year before. Only after scraping into the last spot of the final with a time of 21.72 seconds. 

This sport is brutally honest. I believe that my current form’s potential 21.8 would have no chance of winning a medal and would likely struggle to make the finals. I have already been in many medal-less finals, and Kazan is a long way to go to be in another one.

Why go? Firstly, competing at the highest level always provides valuable experience and insight into the way I react to certain stressful situations. Sometimes more can be garnered from mistakes than the things done correctly. Secondly, as a professional swimmer I feel pressure to continue to assert my presence on the international stage. 

The argument for returning immediately to training is that after this outing at the Pan Am Games, I now know exactly where I am and what I need to work on to continue to build on my current form. No time will be wasted. A rushed four month season for World’s will seamlessly morph into a very thorough strategic undertaking of 16 months for the perfect plan towards Rio. There will be other competitions coming up to swim even faster at.

My goals always dictate my decisions and actions, leaving me assured that every step is on the path. In trying to factor all the major elements involved in a decision, it’s impossible to take into account and rationalise the infinite permutations of the elements behind the major elements involved. 

We get caught up trying to apply logic to facts, when logic is actually dictated by the facts, and the more you look, the more facts there are to consider. Trying to grasp the infinite by taking everything into account with this approach inevitably leads to paralysis by analysis. At some point intuition takes over and the decision is mysteriously made.

After trying in vain to weigh all of the pros and cons regarding everything involved, I am going to surrender my desperate grasp, and trust the feeling in my bones. Visiting Kazan, and more top class racing would no doubt be an interesting experience and a great opportunity. However, my focus has never been the Pan Am Games, and is not these World Championships. It is next summer’s Olympics; just a year away. 

I feel it now, or rather know it intuitively; such relief! I see it so clearly. I must skip Kazan to keep this momentum rolling, and front load this coming year with more focused hard work and sustained improvement. Thus ensuring that I have done everything I can in the best interest of being my best when it really matters.