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Swimming behind enemy lines

English swimmer Ellen Gandy has always been drawn to water, whether falling into ponds or striving for Olympic glory. Brendan Lucas spoke to her in Melbourne about her journey so far, as well as her future aspirations.

Since putting on the red, white and blue, Ellen Gandy never looked back.  Gandy has always been a swimming fanatic, competing in her first Olympics at the age of 16. Following the Beijing Olympics and last year’s Commonwealth Games, Gandy appears well on her way to gold at the London Olympics.

Originally from Bromley, England, Gandy currently lives in Melbourne. Her lively and positive attitude is testament to the hurdles she has overcome.

She told Brendan Lucas about her journey, her heroes, and her rivalry with the Australian team.

Travelling can be a daunting experience for the first time.  Why did you leave your hometown? Was it difficult settling into a new environment?

Our lives here are polar opposites from what they were in England. We left because my dad got a job at the Melbourne Airport.

It was incredibly daunting moving. The first year was the worst. I was training full time, so I decided to take the year off school, and focus on that, which meant that I didn’t mix with many people outside of my swimming squad. I was pretty lonely. But once we were in our house and things felt more permanent, it was fine.

Did you always have a love of swimming as a child?

Yes.  I used to run into the sea when I was a little kid, even when it was 15 degrees. I always seemed to fall into ponds. I don’t know if that was a love for water, or just clumsiness!

My passion for swimming evolved between the ages of 11 and 13. I began to get some recognition for my training and won about nine national gold medals. I realised I was actually rated in the country and I started getting the confidence that maybe I could take my passion further.

Swimming behind enemy lines can spark rivalry.  What is it that you like about this rivalry? Are you British or Australian at heart?

The first time I ever put on my Olympic tracksuit I looked in the mirror with my mum and I can’t explain the happiness I felt wearing my red, white and blue. I have always swum for England, and for the immediate future I cannot see myself representing any other country. The rivalry in training is the healthy rivalry of sport. I now know a lot of the Aussies and they are all so good to me. Although I would never class us as enemies, wearing the green and gold could never give me the feeling that swimming for England does.

The Beijing Olympics and the Delhi Commonwealth Games have been a big part of your swimming journey.  How have these results influenced your swimming?

Only experience can prepare you for a major international meet. The pressure is daunting. The Olympics were my first major international meet. I wasn’t ready for that 200 fly – I absolutely bombed. I was at the Olympics for experience; I was only 16 after all! When I feel like quitting, I hold on to the fact that I have another opportunity in a year to qualify and do it again.

This time around I made not only the finals – but medal. I overcame a huge mental hurdle. I was ready because I knew the feeling of pressure I was going to feel. I knew my family and friends were watching, and I didn’t let it phase me this time. I hope I can take what I learnt in Delhi and also at the European championships, and move a step forward again next year.

Who are some of your heroes, and what role have your family played in influencing you to believe that you can be successful?

The people I look up to most are my family. My sister, Vicky, inspires me everyday, and keeps me grounded. I admire anyone who goes for a goal and who really commits, but I can’t say one specific sporting person stands out to me. Undoubtedly, the people who have impacted on my swimming the most are my parents. For them to give up so much, to take us to all those sessions, is just the best support I could ever have.

You are now attending Carey Baptist Grammar School.  What made you come to Carey, and how has it helped spark your desire for further education?

A lot of my training partners had gone to Carey before me, so I knew they understood the demands of swimming. Phil De Young, our principal, was amazing. I remember him telling me to follow my dream. I’m hoping to go to Monash University next year to study global arts. I have an ambition to work for the UN in some capacity.

My goal has always been success at the Olympics. That is my dream. Next year, the focus is on the World champs in Shanghai, I have to qualify for that in March next year, and then it’s full steam ahead to the Olympic trials early in 2012.’

I haven’t looked past London 2012, who knows what the future holds.

Brendan Lucas is a second-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.  You can follow him on Twitter: @bplucas8.

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